What is Inflammation in Your Horses and Is It All Bad?

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Credit: Thinkstock Recognizing and addressing inflammation in your horse early in the process can help alleviate pain and potential future problems.

Credit: Thinkstock Recognizing and addressing inflammation in your horse early in the process can help alleviate pain and potential future problems.

Editor's note: Summer is fast approaching, and horse people are using their horses more. This month we are focusing an article each week on inflammation to help you understand what it is and how to manage it.

Whenever there is tissue irritation or injury, inflammation is usually close behind. Inflammation is the body’s immune response to some kind of stimulus such as a laceration, bruise, sprain or strain, torn soft tissue, burn or infection.

The evidence of inflammation is clear--the area swells, is warm to touch due to increased circulation, is likely to be painful to touch or finger pressure, and if it is in a hairless area on your horse it might appear reddened. Internally, the body’s inflammatory response increases permeability of blood vessels to improve circulation and to deliver specific blood cells to target and clean up trauma or infection. Integration of these processes is instrumental to the healing process.

It is likely that your horse will resent you fiddling with the inflamed injury because all the chemical mediators of the body have increased the area’s sensitivity to stimuli, in effect signaling the horse to protect the injured area. Pain, heat and swelling cause sufficient discomfort that the horse tends to withdraw the injury from further irritation.

As a protective mechanism to minimize further trauma, inflammation and its accompanying pain is a good thing. Pain in a limb often causes lameness, with the horse placing less weight on the injured leg. Pain in the eye causes a horse to keep the eye closed, which protects against wind and insect irritation.

Sometimes, and especially when inflammation occurs on throughout the body, the inflammatory response can be severe enough that the horse develops a fever, loses his appetite and doesn’t feel well. This might be counterproductive to the horse continuing to take care of himself with eating and drinking. In some cases, a systemic inflammatory response could affect intestinal motility, which can lead to colic.

In the ideal situation, you will recognize an inflammatory condition in your horse quite early in the process. With judicious use of anti-inflammatory medications and good management, you can forestall secondary adverse effects.