Swollen Lymph Nodes in Horses: What is Cause for Concern?

June 29, 2023 4 min read

Swollen lymph nodes in horses can indicate a serious underlying condition. Lymph nodes are located throughout the horse’s body, with major lymphatic centers in the head and neck. When the lymph nodes become swollen, it is usually a sign that the immune system is working to fight off an infection or disease.

Many different conditions can cause swollen lymph nodes in horses. Some of the most common causes include infections, such as strangles, equine influenza, and equine herpesvirus. Other possible causes include cancer, autoimmune diseases, and allergic reactions. It is crucial to identify the underlying cause of swollen lymph nodes in horses in order to provide appropriate treatment and prevent further complications.

Causes

Infectious causes

Swollen lymph nodes in horses can be caused by various infectious agents. Some of the most common infectious causes include:

  • Bacterial infections such as strangles which is caused by Streptococcus equi.
  • Viral infections include equine infectious anemia (EIA) and equine herpesvirus (EHV).
  • Fungal infections such as coccidioidomycosis which is caused by the fungus Coccidioides immitis.

Infectious causes of swollen lymph nodes can often be identified through laboratory testing. Treatment typically involves addressing the underlying infection with antibiotics, antivirals, or antifungal medications.

Non-infectious causes

Swollen lymph nodes in horses can also be caused by non-infectious factors. Some common non-infectious causes include:

  • Allergies to environmental factors such as pollen or dust.
  • Neoplastic disorders such as lymphoma.

Diagnosis of non-infectious causes of swollen lymph nodes can be more challenging and may require a combination of laboratory testing, imaging studies, and biopsy. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause and may involve medications, surgery, or other interventions.

It is vital for horse owners and caretakers to be aware of the potential causes of swollen lymph nodes and to seek veterinary care promptly if their horse develops this symptom. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to minimize the impact of these conditions on the horse's health and well-being.

Symptoms

Swollen lymph nodes, or lymphadenopathy, can occur in any part of a horse's body. The most common areas where lymph nodes can become swollen are the throat, neck, and under the jaw. Swollen lymph nodes are usually a sign of an underlying infection or inflammation.

Horses with swollen lymph nodes may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Lethargy and loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Coughing or nasal discharge
  • Swelling or tenderness in the affected area
  • Lameness or stiffness

It is important to note that swollen lymph nodes may not always be visible or palpable. Sometimes, they may only be detected through diagnostic imaging or laboratory tests.

If a horse exhibits any of these symptoms, it is essential to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible. Swollen lymph nodes can indicate a serious underlying condition, such as an infection or cancer, and prompt diagnosis and treatment can improve the horse's prognosis.

Diagnosis

When a horse owner suspects swollen lymph nodes in their horse, it is important to get a proper diagnosis from a veterinarian. Several methods can be used to diagnose swollen lymph nodes in horses, including physical examination, blood tests, and biopsies. 

It is important to note that swollen lymph nodes can be a symptom of many different illnesses, so a proper diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment.

Treatment

When it comes to treating swollen lymph nodes in horses, there are several options available. The specific treatment approach will depend on the underlying cause of the swelling. Below are some standard treatment options that a veterinarian may recommend.

Antibiotics

If a bacterial infection causes swelling, antibiotics may be prescribed. The type of antibiotic prescribed will depend on the specific bacteria causing the infection. It is important to note that antibiotics should only be used when necessary and as directed by a veterinarian.

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as phenylbutazone or flunixin meglumine, may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation and pain associated with swollen lymph nodes. These drugs are often used in conjunction with other treatments.

Overall, it is important to work closely with a veterinarian to determine the best treatment approach for a horse with swollen lymph nodes. With proper treatment and care, most horses can recover fully and return to their normal activities.

Help Your Horse’s Circulation with Far-Infrared Therapy

Swollen Lymph Nodes in Horses: What is Cause for Concern?Regarding lymph nodes, drainage, and circulation are key to overall health. While not a replacement for veterinary-prescribed treatments, non-invasive far-infrared equine garments, such as  Benefab’s SmartHood & SmartScrim can aid in the circulation process in your horse from head to tail. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common causes of swollen lymph nodes in horses?

Swollen lymph nodes in horses can be caused by various factors such as infections, inflammation, and neuroplastic disorders. Common causes include viral or bacterial infections, allergic reactions, and cancer, such as lymphoma.

How can a horse owner detect swollen lymph nodes in their horse?

Horse owners can detect swollen lymph nodes by feeling for any lumps or bumps under the skin. Swollen lymph nodes are usually firm, enlarged, and painful to the touch. They are often found under the jaw and throat latch area.

What are some possible treatments for swollen lymph nodes in horses?

Treatment for swollen lymph nodes in horses depends on the underlying cause. Infections may require antibiotics or antiviral medication, while cancer may require surgery or chemotherapy. In some cases, supportive care such as pain management and rest may also be necessary.

Are swollen lymph nodes always a cause for concern in horses?

Swollen lymph nodes in horses can be a cause for concern, but not always. Sometimes, they may be a normal response to an infection or inflammation. However, if the swelling continues or your horse displays other symptoms, such as fever or lethargy, it is important to seek veterinary care.



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