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What are Cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a common malady among horses.  This infection of soft connective tissue under the skin can develop in any place in the body but it is most commonly found in horses in either of the hind legs.  The swelling associated with cellulitis can be a laming situation for your horse, at least until it is brought under control. Lameness is often seen first; this is a symptom that should always be evaluated by a veterinarian if it persists, particularly if fever or malaise accompany it.

Cellulitis is a skin infection that usually results from a scratch, scrape or puncture of the skin.

Cellulitis Average Cost

From 393 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,800

Symptoms of Cellulitis in Horses

Here are some of the symptoms you will notice with cellulitis in your horse:

  • Swelling and pain in the area of the injury
  • Skin that is hot to the touch
  • Fever sometimes in the horse
  • Lameness in the affected limb which can be acute

Sometimes the lameness will come on before the significant swelling appears in the wound area.  This lameness is sometimes confused with possible fractures of the various bones in the limbs.  While cellulitis can develop in any place in the body, the most common location for development on horses is the limbs, specifically most often found in the hind limbs.

Types

  

There are two types or categories of cellulitis in horses:

  • Primary cellulitis - Those cases in which no root cause can be established (most commonly found in Thoroughbred horses but can happen in any breed of horse)

  • Secondary cellulitis - Those cases in which there is a known root cause (can develop in any breed of horse and, surprisingly, only about 50 percent of the reported equine cellulitis cases are secondary to a known cause)
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Causes of Cellulitis in Horses

While bacterial activity is what actually fuels the infection, there are a number of situations that are considered to predispose horses to cellulitis:

  • Surgery
  • Joint infections
  • Wounds (scratches, scrapes, cuts, puncture wounds)
  • Blunt trauma
  • External parasites
  • Poor hygiene
  • Bacterial populations which exist on the skin
  • Decreased blood or lymphatic circulation
  • Drying and irritation of the skin (long exposures to mud or sand can dry the skin and cause cracks and breaks in the skin into which the bacteria present on the skin can enter the body)
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Diagnosis of Cellulitis in Horses

Your veterinarian will need to do a thorough physical examination of your horse.  He will be interested in ruling out causes of lameness like fractures and septic joints as these conditions can exhibit similar symptoms and clinical signs. Most of his evaluation of your horse’s condition may come from this thorough physical examination but don’t be surprised if he also may wish to utilize some other diagnostic tools to develop his diagnosis.  He may wish to use radiography,  ultrasonography and blood work to tie down the diagnosis.  

If there is swelling, he will likely be interested in getting a sample of the fluid for laboratory evaluation.  This will enable him to isolate the bacterial component and develop a treatment plan that is specific to that bacterial component.  Identification of the cause for the cellulitis can’t always be determined but your veterinarian will provide the best treatment plan for this scenario as well.

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Treatment of Cellulitis in Horses

Depending on the cause of the cellulitis in your horse as determined by your veterinary caregiver, treatment options will vary.  Most often, treatment plans will include administration of antibiotics and anti inflammatory medications (like phenylbutazone or flunixin meglumine) to treat the bacterial infection, the inflammation and pain associated with the cellulitis episode. Your veterinarian will likely also recommend keeping the affected area clean, and surrounding hair clipped closely.  

Your veterinarian may require cold-hosing to reduce swelling in the leg and follow with a pressure wrap and he will instruct you in the appropriate way to apply the pressure wrap to assure no further damage is done.  A note here for those of you who have never dealt with a horse with cellulitis:  exercise is one of the best treatment options available.  This will help the lymphatic system of the horse to drain the fluid accumulation and improve the circulation in the afflicted area.

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Recovery of Cellulitis in Horses

For some horses, cellulitis episodes will keep repeating, while for others, careful monitoring will reduce the opportunity for repeat infections. Generally, the horse will heal adequately from the cellulitis episode but, if there is damage to the underlying tissues from this episode or from previous episodes, the risk of repeat is higher.  Resolution of the cellulitis will take some time and will require some adjustment on your part to comply with the treatment regimen.  Once your horse is healed from his bout with cellulitis, you may wish to consider making some changes in his routine to avoid repeat episodes.  These changes might include:

  • Establishing or changing his exercise routine to make it more regular to keep the lymphatic circulation flowing
  • Make every effort to keep the leg clean and dry and try to eliminate or significantly reduce the times when your horse is turned out in standing water, muddy or sandy conditions
  • Closely monitoring the condition of your horse will help you catch those repeat episodes earlier to enable more timely treatment and reduce the chance of further damage to the underlying tissue
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Cellulitis Average Cost

From 393 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,800

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Cellulitis Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Fionna

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Lipizzaner

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18 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

No Pain
No Heat
Edema
No Lameness
Massive Stocking Up
No Lethargy

Fionna has had a "stocked up" rear left hind for about a week now and when the vet came out to do her fall shots I had her take a look at it. She indicated that, at some point, Fionna had had a bout of cellulitis and what she was experiencing was a residual after-effect. I've had Fionna since she was 7 and she's 18 now; she's never had cellulitis that I am aware of. Then again, Lipizzaners are a very hearty breed of horse. Is it possible that she had a slight case that I was unaware of? Her left hind HAS had a few cases of white line and abscesses in the past -- not to mention a few mystery abscesses on the coronet band. What do you think?

Sept. 21, 2018

Fionna's Owner

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Max

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Quarter Horse

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17 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Hot
Hard

Max had a football size swelling on his left front forearm from trauma.It was very soft. Vet came out and lanced it. He said it was about 2 liters of serum in it. 2 days after this it was infected and he prescribed penicillin. Gave him 12ml daily for 7 days. Infection was clearing up nicely. On day 6 forearm started to swell again. It was hard and hot. Unable to drain anymore from original site. Called vet and asked if he should come back out or change antibiotics. He said we should just wait a few days as he did not have a temperature. I just feel bad as it has gotten larger for 3 days now and I am just told to wait. Would this most likely be antibiotic resistant bacteria? Do you recommend I just wait it out? Just looking for a second opinion.

Aug. 7, 2018

Max's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Max is under the care of your Veterinarian, you should follow their instructions and see if there are any improvements over the next day or two; during this time you should keep your Veterinarian informed about what is happening. If the swelling gets worse or you notice any other symptoms you should ask your Veterinarian to return to your yard or speak with them about getting a second opinion to ease your concerns. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 7, 2018

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P

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Thoroughbred

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16 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lame

I’m waiting on the vet coming out, my horse has a swollen leg from his fetlock to his knee with 2 scrapes on it. His knee and fetlock is also swollen and hot. Would it be better if he was turned out to keep moving as much as possible?

July 17, 2018

P's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

I would think it would be better to confine him until your veterinarian is able to look at him, to prevent him using that leg. Without seeing him, I can't say for sure, but that would make sense to me.

July 17, 2018

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Camelot

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Paint Quarter Horse

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16 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling
Pain

A stllion got out during the night into a pasture with a gelding and two mares. He has been kicked badly. Swelling to left shoulder is huge, to right hip is not as bad. Not moving well but is doing some. I gave him bute to help move him back into his pen and help with pain. I am at a loss how to help get the swelling to go down. There is not a lot of heat to the area's. He has gotten down and up, eating, drinking, but is in obvious pain. Swelling in humans is painful in itself. What can I do to help him with the swelling and discomfort from that? Does not appear to be any broken bones but can't tell for sure until the swelling is gone, or at least down. Any help for him would be appreciated. Yes, has used cold water from the hose. These areas have no open wounds.

June 9, 2018

Camelot's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Without examining Camelot it is difficult to judge the overall severity of the injuries and all I can recommend is the use of a hose as I cannot legally prescribe anything without examining Camelot first. Continue with the hose for now, but I would recommend calling out your Veterinarian especially for the shoulder injury. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

June 10, 2018

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Hercules

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Belgian

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8 Years

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Fair severity

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pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Leg

I bought a Belgian gelding, his back leg is swollen, ankle to his hock. Is it a bit hot, but is does not hurt him at all. He does have a old scrape on his leg, no puss. I have no info on him, kill pen horse. When he starts moving more, it seems the swelling lessens? I'm trying to get him to see a vet, I don't have my trailer right now though. Anything I can try before he is seen? Thank you!

May 13, 2018

Hercules' Owner

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0 Recommendations

There are a few different causes for swelling in the limbs of horses which may include cellulitis but another cause may be accumulation of fluid (stocking up) which is caused by inactivity, when a horse starts to move the swelling may decrease. However, without examining Hercules I cannot say for certain what the underlying cause is; you should call out your Veterinarian or take him in. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

May 13, 2018

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Jericho

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Thoroughbred

dog-age-icon

20 Years

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Moderate severity

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1 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Fever
Lame
Hot To Touch

I bought a 15 year old OTTB a little over 4 years ago. About 8 months after I had him, he had an abscess blow and cellulitis formed in his hind leg. Every year I have had an issue having a flare up. I treat him with 10 SMZ's and a gram of bute twice a day along with cold hoseing and hand walking with stall rest. Only the first time the abscess caused this. Every other time it's been a wound that's caused another flare up. When I've asked both past owners about this, they never had trouble with this. He does have poor circulation in his hind legs but I turn him out 6 to 12 hours a day. Sometimes 24 hours in the summer. If they never had problems with him, what would have caused this to develop later in life? Is there anyway I can prevent this in the future?

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Spider

dog-breed-icon

Warmblood

dog-age-icon

15 Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Lame.

Hi, my horse had a bout of cellulitis in his right hind 2 weeks ago and was successfully treated with penicillin and hand walking. We figured it was caused by the greasy heal that he had developed. However today I went and saw him and his whole left fore leg is swollen. From Pastern to knee. He was very lame in a trot up and I will be calling vet out tomorrow. Is this just another bout of cellulitis? He didn’t have any cuts or scrapes at all either! It did go down slightly around the cannon with an ice boot however not a huge amount.

Cellulitis Average Cost

From 393 quotes ranging from $1,000 - $4,000

Average Cost

$1,800

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