Elite Equine and The Painful Truth About Cellulitis
Meg Hammond and Callie Fogle, Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, offers insight into this painful infection:
Few situations shout ‘Emergency!’ louder than a horse refusing to bear weight on a grossly swollen leg.
‘A lameness with significant swelling should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible,’ says Meg Hammond, DVM.
You’ll want to keep the horse still while you wait---if it’s an injury, making him walk even a few steps could make it worse.
The greatest fear, of course, is that the lameness is caused by a fracture or another injury.
But occasionally the source of the problem is something less dire yet still a challenge to treat: an infection called cellulitis.
‘Cellulitis is somewhat common in the horse world, but it can be frightening for an owner,’ says Hammond. ‘The leg can be normal one day and double or triple in size overnight.
If the leg is infected, the swelling will not resolve with nursing care alone.’
Life-threatening complications are possible, especially if treatment is delayed. And for some horses, the initial bout of acute cellulitis will be just the first of many chronic flare-ups.
The primary treatment is an aggressive course of intravenous antibiotics as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to address pain and inflammation, with an added broad-spectrum antibiotic to start off with.
According to Callie Fogle, DVM, ‘Cold water therapy is helpful, whether it’s one of the fancy boots that recirculates cold water, or just cold water from a hose.’
Bandaging may also help to control the swelling, if the horse will tolerate it.
Finally, steroids might be an option, but they must be used judiciously.
‘Short-term steroid use with a bout of acute cellulitis is OK, but you wouldn’t want to use it very long’, says Fogle.
Managing a horse prone to chronic cellulitis requires diligence. But with attentive care, there’s no reason he can’t live a long, healthy and productive life.’ 
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