Inflammation is the body’s response to irritation or injury. That may be from a laceration, bruise, sprain or strain, torn soft tissue, burn, or infection.

Inflammation is easy to spot, swelling, heat, and pain to the touch are telltale signs. Recognizing the signs early in the process can help alleviate pain and avoid potential problems down the road. Internally, the body’s inflammatory response increases the permeability of blood vessels to improve circulation and to deliver specific blood cells to target and clean up trauma or infection. The integration of these processes is instrumental in 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.

By Nancy S. Loving, DVM