A ‘filled’ or swollen leg is a common condition and although it can look quite alarming, it’s not usually serious and rarely causes lameness. The swelling generally affects pairs of legs and most commonly afflicts the hind ones below the hock.
Always check your horse’s legs carefully to make sure there are no obvious signs of injury or infection. If the legs are merely ‘filled’, you should be able to apply gentle pressure to the swelling without causing your horse any discomfort and the swelling will feel squashy and dough-like.
If there is heat in the leg, localized swelling, or pain on pressure and lameness, it’s likely there is an infection or some other soft tissue injury which will require veterinary attention.
What causes ‘filled’ legs?
The condition occurs when fluid gathers in the horse’s legs. When the horse is moving around, the action of his feet hitting the floor sends lymphatic fluid and blood back up through his legs and into his body. Long periods of immobility in a stable or during traveling for prolonged periods can cause the fluid to collect and ‘fill’ the lower legs.
Too many carbohydrates in the horse’s diet coupled with a lack of adequate exercise can also cause the legs to fill. Older horses and finer breeds are more prone to developing filled legs than youngsters, ponies, or heavier types.
Solving the Problem
The easiest way to solve the problem is to get your horse moving. Take him out for a walk in hand if he can’t be ridden or give him half an hour’s gentle exercise on a horse walker. If possible, turn him out.
Correctly applied stable bandages with plenty of padding underneath can help to reduce swelling and you should use these as a preventative measure if your horse has to be kept in for long periods (see image above). Take the bandages off twice a day and give your horse’s legs a massage to encourage good circulation.
Cold hosing daily can also help to reduce filling, and ice or Jacuzzi boots also work well.
If the problem persists, cut down his hard feed ration and replace it with forage.
Filled legs can be prevented by good management techniques and sensible feeding. Remember that filled legs almost always come in pairs and do not cause lameness. If just one leg is affected or your horse is lame, ask your vet for advice as the swelling could indicate a more serious problem.
Image credit: Flick
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