It is nearly 2 years ago now when I arrived home from work to find Ralph standing motionless, not grazing in the field. At first I thought he may just be snoozing; however he was still standing motionless in the same position 30 minutes later. On closer inspection his near hind leg above the hock and up towards his stifle seemed swollen and I could visibly see what I thought were his veins raised through his skin (these raised veins were in fact his inflamed lymph vessels). His breathing also didn’t seem normal.
All sorts of things raced through my mind; had he been poisoned, had he fallen and broken something? He had been fine when I had put him out that morning. No lameness or stiffness (for a 20yr old man he is sometimes a little stiff in the morning). I tried to get him to move but he stood firm with his feet planted to the ground and I was reluctant to try and force him as I wasn’t sure what was wrong.
I’m not one for calling the vet out at the first sign of something unusual but this had me baffled. It was late in the evening so we had to wait for the on call vet to arrive. She was out of that area but very reassuring and said she would be with us within the hour. By the time she arrived, around 8pm, it was getting dark and Ralph was still in the same position he breathing more uneven that before. Intravenous pain relief was administered with a dose of antibiotics and eventually with a bit of persuasion we managed to get him in out of the field to his stable, where he immediately started tucking into his haylage and tea (nothing wrong with his appetite!)
The vet’s diagnosis was probable Lymphangitis and the advise was to see how he was in the morning and she would call out around 11am. Nothing had prepared me for what I saw the following morning. Ralph was stood at the back of the stable with a hind leg the size of an elephant’s which was oozing a honey coloured liquid. I was horrified but these symptoms fitted with Lymphangitis and I had read that keeping moving was good. It took a bit of gentle persuasion to get him out the stable and then off we went around the field.
Over the coming days and weeks Ralph was on a combination of intravenous and oral pain relief as well as a steroid. His leg remained extremely swollen and oozing for weeks and all the hair came off his leg. He was turned out in the field but didn’t really move around a lot so I led him out around the road and did some light lungeing to keep him moving. Eventually the swelling subsided but it has never gone fully.
Thankfully 2 years on at nearly 22 years of age Ralph is completely sound and although the swelling never fully goes the more exercise he does the better it becomes.
Since the experience I have done some research, below are some facts about Lymphangitis and how to avoid it:
- The lymphatic system is essentially the horse’s “fluid waste system” and is made up of a network of fine vessels running parallel to the arteries and veins. The vessels carry lymph which drains fluid away from the limbs
- Lymphangitis is usually caused by ingress of bacteria from a small wound although in Ralph’s case we could see no visible wound and there was no evidence of anything like mud fever
- Lymphangitis is extremely painful, hence the uneven breathing and reluctance to move
- The horse will most likely have a raised temperature and appear generally ill
- Any breed, size or age of horse can be affected
- Provide daily exercise or at least some form of turn out
- If you notice any wound no matter how small, treat immediately to prevent infection
- Call your vet as soon as possible if you suspect an attack of Lymphangitis
- Do not confuse with Lymphoedma which is a relatively harmless filling of hind legs after a horse has been standing in for a longer than usual amount of time
I would like to thank the equine vet’s, in particular Liz, at Wright and Morten for their support and assistance.
I hope you find my experience useful, maybe you would like to share your own experiences.