Swollen Fetlocks

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Q: I had my two geldings’ feet trimmed and reset on July 26th (Monday) which was at 6 weeks instead of our usual 7 or 8 weeks, because I was not available on my usual 7 week schedule and I did not want to go to 9 weeks, and I was also wanting to ride in a dressage clinic on July 31st, so I thought that it would be better to have trimmed feet for the clinic rather than longer feet. 

My farrier has been doing the horses with good results and no incidents for well over a year now, so I am at a loss for the reason(s) that both horses’ fetlocks and pasterns were swollen the day after the shoeing.  Not very much, but just noticeable.  I turned them both out for the remainder of the day and that evening they were both still slightly puffy, but better, so I did not think too much about it and they were both walking just fine and no one was lame.  I thought it would be OK to ride Dazzler that evening and that some brief walk, trot might even help.  He seemed short and choppy, so I thought he might be sore and so I didn’t ride very long, hosed off his legs with cold water and put him away for the night. 

  The next morning, Wednesday, Little Bay was just fine, but Dazzler’s hind fetlocks were very puffy, but he was walking ok, so out to the pasture they went for the day.  That evening I again used cold water on them, and no riding or lunging, thinking that by Thursday, they would be fine.  No heat from either hoof or swelled areas.  No such luck, on Friday, they were better, but still quite puffy.  I again used cold water and pasture turnout, but also called the vet.  They suggested Bute 2 times a day, a.m. and p.m. for a day or two, but also suggested no clinic.  By Saturday morning they were still better, but not comfortable enough for the clinic, I didn’t try to ride in it.

  Finally, on Sunday and Monday Dazzler’s hind fetlocks looked small enough to try a ride and he was his usual fine self again.  I continue to use cold water in the evenings and no longer give him Bute .  His right hind fetlock is still just a little puffy, to me, anyhow, but all seems well now. 

  I worry if any permanent damage was done that might pop up in the future, and if all this could have been caused by just trimming their feet too short??  Sorry this took so long to explain, but I’d like to know if you have had any experiences like this, and what you think it was all about.  I did contact my farrier and let her know about it, but she did not think that the shoeing/trimming was the cause.  What do you think?  I do know that in the future, I will go over rather than under on their trimming and shoeing schedule!?!  Looking forward to your reply. 

A: I think I have to agree with your farrier. I doubt that the swellings were caused by the shoeing. For one thing, even if she changed something drastically enough to cause swelling in one horse, it is unlikely that she would have changed both horses that much and even less likely that both horses would have responded in the same way. I would suggest that you follow your original logic and in the same circumstances opt for well-trimmed and shod for a clinic rather than go with 9-weeks of growth.

  My slightly educated guess would be allergic reaction. To what? Who knows? But I would say probably to a weed they ate. Weeds can creep into any pasture. It could also be allergic reaction to insect bites, but that is usually more localized to the bite location.

  The main reason I suspected allergic reactions right off is that years ago I had a horse whose legs swelled up pretty badly for no obvious reason. The same general symptoms—no heat, no pain, horse seemed otherwise normal. All 4 legs were involved, but mostly the hind legs. I called my vet about it and he said it was most likely allergy. Since I had injectible antihistamine and steroids on hand, he told me how much to give of each and to let him know if the condition worsened or didn’t respond in reasonable time. Although it took a couple days to clear up completely, the symptoms did improve quickly so the vet never did come out.

  I also remember reading an article about a condition called purpura hemorrhagica and I looked it up in my vet books yesterday. It “is a disease characterized by extensive collections of fluid and blood in tissues beneath the skin (edema). These swellings occur primarily on the head and legs.” Although my vet hadn’t put the name to my horse’s condition when I talked to him, I think that was what it would have been called. Just as well he didn’t give me a name for it because it would have scared me to death. The magazine article I had read was about a grand prix jumper who got it really badly and nearly died and it described the extensive treatments he went through before he pulled out of it. The severe cases described in my vet books are also pretty scary. The skin can slough off the legs and other nasty things. Now—STOP THAT! Do not go getting all paranoid on me! Your horses are fine and I only tell you this for your information and education, so don’t panic!

  The older books say they don’t know what causes the swellings but perhaps it is allergy. The newer ones say it is an allergic reaction and “may be caused by a reaction to the protein of streptococci since it frequently occurs one to three weeks after a case of strangles, infectious arteritis or equine rhinopneumonitis.” But they also say it might be caused by a plant allergy and usually occurs when the horse’s resistance is down, as when he is recovering from strangles.

  So—that is my two cents worth! I’d guess that the farrier is off the hook and your boys just got into something they shouldn’t have. My horse never had a second attack, nor did any other horses at my place ever show the same symptoms, so I don’t think I’d worry excessively about combing my fields for edible culprits. You might want to discuss it next time you are at the vet’s and see if they want to get you some injectible antihistamine (which they always seemed to have trouble locating for me) or steroids to have on hand, just in case. 


Mary Bayard
American Blacksmith
 Murphys, California


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This entire web site is copyright © protected.  © 1996-2001 Geronimo & Mary Bayard, © 2001-2008 Mary Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved. Contact Mary for reproduction information & permission.