Swollen legs, lameness and reluctance to move the hind of the body can indicate one of a number of different conditions. However, if these symptoms are accompanied by an extreme, subcutaneous infection with the formation of seeping pus, it is likely your horse has contracted cellulitis.
Also called septic cellulitis or phlegmon, cellulitis is a disease that, in equines, predominately affects the back legs. It normally begins with bacteria entering the dermal layers of an exposed wound and embedding into the deeper tissue. Once inside the soft connective tissue, the bacteria multiply and quickly spread throughout the limb, forming pus which can seep from the skin as a visible discharge. The initial wound can be caused by a variety of factors, from parasites through to mud fever lesions, and there is some evidence to suggest that prolonged exposure to dry grounds such as sand can contribute to the occurrence of wounds through long-term irritation. The extent of the infection varies from horse to horse and it can extend to the surface of the skin. Please note that the size of the initial wound does not affect its severity
You may not initially suspect cellulitis as the combination of symptoms could represent any one of a number of different conditions. Therefore, if you notice a combination of the following symptoms you should contact your veterinarian for an appropriate diagnosis:
It is important to note that cellulitis can develop very quickly, progressing from a very minor cut to severe infection over only a few short hours. In very severe cases, it can develop into more severe complications such as necrosis (where the skin tissue dies and breaks away) and so it is vital to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.
As yet, the causes of cellulitis and the factors determining the severity of infection are relatively unknown. There are, however, certain elements which are believed to contribute to its development, such as poor wound management, poor hygiene, weakened immune response and compromised circulation. There do not appear to be any breed or type predispositions but there does seem to be a high rate of reinfection following the initial episode.
Your veterinarian will normally treat the horse with a combination of antibiotics and pain relief medications (including a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug to bring down any inflammation). Depending on the state of the wound it may also require draining, bandaging and nursing for some time afterwards until healing is complete.
It is impossible to completely protect your horse from illness and injury but taking a number of measures can limit the risk of the infection becoming more severe:
Just as with any infection, cellulitis can have a number of complications. With good management you can certainly help to limit the repercussions.
Visit www.spalding-labs.com regularly for more helpful tips on horse care and health issues.
© Spalding Laboratories. All Rights Reserved.