Lymphangitis in Horses
The equine lymphatic system is a network of nodes and vessels which run throughout the horses’ entire body. The lymphatic system plays a number of roles in the body. Its main function is to transport lymph fluid throughout the body. Interstitial fluid which surrounds all the tissues and cells within the horse’s body drains into lymph vessels. Interstitial fluid provides a medium for the transport of oxygen and essential nutrients around the body. The lymphatic system also removes waste products from the body. A high concentration of white blood cells called lymphocytes can also be found in the lymphatic system. Lymphocytes help the body by fighting off foreign pathogens which could otherwise develop into disease or infection.Therefore the lymphatic system plays an extremely important role in maintaining a healthy immune system, protecting your horse from a wide range of illnesses.
Lymphangitis is a condition that is characterised by disruption or inflammation to the horse’s lymphatic system. This condition compromises how well the lymphatic system performs and can result in fluid accumulation. Lymphangitis can occur due to a compromise within the horse’s immune system. A common cause of immune system being compromised is injury. A wound which breaks the skin can allow bacteria to enter into the tiny lymph vessels and this bacteria can quickly multiply and spread throughout the entire lymphatic system.
Symptoms of lymphangitis include:
- Limb swelling - swelling can affect one or multiple limbs however is most commonly seen in hind legs. The swelling arises as a result of fluid accumulating in the limb. The limb may also be very painful and hot to the touch.
- Lameness, stiffness and reluctance to move as a result of limb soreness.
- Changes in behaviour - horses with lymphangitis may appear dull and lethargic.
- Loss of appetite which may also result in weight loss.
- Raised temperature - anything over 37.5-38.5 is considered high.
- Increased heart and respiration rates.
Difference Between Filled Legs and Lymphangitis
It is important to note that not all cases of filled legs mean that your horse has lymphangitis. The flow of lymph fluid around the body relies primarily on the contraction of skeletal muscles, limited muscle contractions mean lymph fluid will begin to accumulate in the limbs. Filled legs in horses is a common condition that arises as a result of extended periods of time with restricted movement. Horses who spend long periods of time in a stable are more prone to getting filled legs. Unlike lymphangitis, filling up will not cause pain or lameness and will usually resolve with exercise. Stable bandages can also be used to help prevent legs from filling up when stabled overnight.
It is important that lymphangitis is treated quickly. If left untreated the condition can quickly worsen and complications arise as a result. A vet will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat infection and a non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug to help manage the pain and swelling. Once pain has subsided, controlled exercise may also be recommended to help manage symptoms.
Tips to Prevent Lymphangitis
We have compiled a list of our top tips for helping prevent lymphangitis:
- Ensure stables and turn outs are free of anything that is likely to cause injury.
- Have a first aid kit on hand to treat any wounds that arise - always contact a vet if you suspect infection.
- Avoid turnout on wet, mucky ground as this can cause mud fever which can lead to lymphangitis.
- Don’t share equipment with multiple horses to avoid cross contamination.
- When stabling at shows ensure the stable is disinfected before use and bring your own bedding, as stabling at shows can be a breeding ground for disease.