Equine Cellulitis



Overview:  Cellulitis is inflammation and infection of the subcutaneous tissues.  The most common place this is seen in the horse is the leg.  There are many different bacterial organisms that can cause cellulitis, but Staphylococcus is the most common.  Cellulitis is often the result of bacterial invasion through a wound or even a small puncture to the skin, which is hard to see.  Another cause for cellulitis is due to the presence of bacteria in the blood stream.


Clinical Signs:  Horses with cellulitis can show mild to severe lameness and is often non-weight bearing.  There is typically diffuse swelling of the limb, which will go up to or past the knee or hock.  The leg may be warm to the touch and the horse may be painful when the limb is palpated.  There may also be a straw-colored discharge present on the skin.  This is serum, which is due to compromised blood vessels from limb swelling.  The horses may also have a fever and in severe cases, skin sloughing can occur.


Diagnosis:  Advanced diagnostics for cellulitis are often not needed and can typically be diagnosed based on clinical signs.  If the horse is showing signs of systemic disease, bloodwork will often be recommended.  Radiographs, ultrasound and/or culture may be recommended in cases that do not respond to treatment.


Treatment: These horses are often placed on injectable antibiotics.  If it is a mild case, then oral antibiotics may be prescribed.  The horse will also be placed on anti-inflammatories for several days.  Cold hosing and wrapping the limb are vital to help decrease swelling.   It is also recommended that a standing wrap be placed on the opposite limb for support.


Prognosis: Most horses recover well from cellulitis.  However, the limb may never return to its original size and the horse may be predisposed to cellulitis in the future.


Conclusion:  Cellulitis cases respond best to early treatment and it is recommended that the horse be evaluated and treated by a veterinarian as soon as symptoms begin.


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