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Swelled head and now swelled body

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  • Swelled head and now swelled body

    I have posted before about this mare, but hope one day someone has an answer!

    Horse is an 8 year old, WHITE (not grey), "reservation mustang".

    About 2 years ago, starting one day in March, her head started to swell, starting around the throatlatch. It would go up and down, then stayed ok all summer...but since then her head has swelled up and down pretty much 50% of the time. Now though, it is also obvious that her body is also swelling...she looks a little like a marshmallow cooking in a microwave... Legs are clean.

    Recently we switched her to be inside during the day, and out at night (so we don't have to do as much sun protection for her face). Since making this change it has been obvious that the swelling happens when outside, and gets better inside.

    now before you state that it is likely allergies, keep in mind this happens even in the dead of winter...not sure what allergies are around year round in Alberta!

    Most recent blood test was normal. We have done many tests, and nothing has given us answers/ideas. Wondering if it is related to her colour?

    Horse also has one fatty lump on her neck...comparable to the fat cysts a dog would get. She used to have a bad issue with roaching her back, but this is mostly resolved.

    Getting frustrated on owner's behalf!
    Vet is out tomorrow to see her yet again. Looking for ANY ideas.
    Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

  • #2
    Hmm, her pink skin brings to mind some kind of photosensitivity, like is seen with horses that have leukoclastic vasulitis. That correlates well with the sunlight reaction you see. If you keep her in for a longer period of time can you get it completely resolved?
    Very strange that its her body and not her legs at all. Has the fatty lump been biopsied?
    As Peter, Paul, and Mary say, a dragon lives forever.


    • #3
      Tumor on the neck raises the (possibly completely off base) question of compression of the great veins in the neck, causing swelling of the head and neck. In humans we call it "superior vena cava syndrome" and it is usually seen in people with big tumors in the upper chest or lower neck.

      Not sure how that would go with swelling of the body as well, but I'm not picturing that too clearly.
      Click here before you buy.


      • #4
        Originally posted by deltawave View Post
        Tumor on the neck raises the (possibly completely off base) question of compression of the great veins in the neck, causing swelling of the head and neck. In humans we call it "superior vena cava syndrome" and it is usually seen in people with big tumors in the upper chest or lower neck.

        Not sure how that would go with swelling of the body as well, but I'm not picturing that too clearly.
        You often see the same thing with jugular vein thrombosis in horses, which fits your theory of vein blockage from the tumor. But like you said, while it could possibly explain the throatlatch swelling, it wouldn't and shouldn't affect the rest of the body.
        Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO


        • Original Poster

          The lump is along her crest, and was biopsied. We were hoping for something more exciting. It is about the size of half a plum.

          Photosensitivity seems unlikely, as the issue is worse in the winter, and we don't have a tonne of sunlight in the winter. She was out 24/7 last summer and the summer before.

          She does burn around her eyes and nose from about April-Oct, even with a mask, which is why she is now in for the day time...when she was out for the day she would be swollen when she came in at 4:30, and now she is out at night, she is swollen at dawn.

          Being in during the day has really improved her eyes, and they no longer burn/get red/runny.

          Her appetite also seems to come and go. Some days she eats her in stall hay efficiently, and other times bits are left over. Same with carrots her owner offers...usually she is a piggy, but some days she just nibbles one, and that is all she wants even though she seems otherwise fine (the other horses attest to the fact the carrots are fine). In her pen, she will often ignore the hay, and try to nibble the tiny amounts of grass in her pen instead. The hay is fine and the other horses are all eating it without issue.

          She is otherwise a happy and alert horse, but I am getting sad and frustrated for her owner who is spending far too much on alternative therapies so I would like to get a real diagnoses we can work with.
          Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


          • Original Poster

            I need before and after pictures to explain the swollen body...sadly I didn't think of that.

            Horse went out with blanket loose, horse came in with blanket straps tight.

            horse went out slightly overweight in her belly/flank, and came in looking obese, particularly near her flank and barrel. it is like there is a layer of fluid making her rounder like a stuffed pony.

            Can horses retain water like people? possibly something with salt? She only has free choice salt outside, not in her stall. Her pen doesn't go through crazy amounts of salt though (she is out with two other mares).
            Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


            • #7
              Yes they can retain fluid. Kidneys been checked? Heart? Is she cushingoid?
              Click here before you buy.


              • #8
                Is horse acting normally? Has vet researched 'Big Head Disease'?


                • Original Poster

                  She has had blood work done every 6 or so months. In past she has shown evidence of low grade infection or inflamation , hematocrit and fibrogen levels off, but rest normal, but most recent test normal even though done when her head was swollen. We have not done a urine test. Heart listened to, but no special tests. Doesn't have fat deposits or extra hair I would expect with cushings, and doesn't drink excessively.

                  Swelling is soft and lower on her head so big head disease not likely. When we ultrasounded the head a specialist thought it was a blocked salivary gland...I suppose that is possible and causes her to lick the salt block more and then retain water?
                  Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                  • Original Poster

                    Vet has come and gone.

                    Poked the body fluid and watched it ripple (not edema, but more like water under the skin).

                    Going to talk to one of her instructors from school to see if they have ideas, and if sending her the 6 horse to the school would make sense...but always the risk she won't be swollen once she gets there as we can't reliably recreate the issue.

                    Doesn't feel salt intake is an issue.

                    I am curious if an ANA test would show anything. May see if owner will allow.
                    Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by CHT View Post
                      She has had blood work done every 6 or so months. In past she has shown evidence of low grade infection or inflamation , hematocrit and fibrogen levels off, but rest normal, but most recent test normal even though done when her head was swollen.
                      DING DING DING.

                      This *really* reminds me of my experiences with Seven's internal abscess thingy. Hers was in a place that caused her to choke, but it also caused her to carry fluid in her legs in a *really* weird way. All of it resolved after we had her on rifampin and excede for a month or so and has not returned. (Knock on wood.)

                      The concern I would have at this point with normal bloodwork is that the immune system has mopped up the infection, but whatever scar tissue that's built up from the body trying to wall off the infection is now causing a lymphatic blockage.

                      I have no idea how you would even try to figure out what's going on or where you would even LOOK. Perhaps ultrasounding the neck, thoracic cavity and gut with a high powered machine could be useful?

                      If you're looking for a shot in the dark, a month of excede and rifampin could be worth a go. If it is some sort of internal abscess, you'll need some really high powered antibiotics long term. Your basic antibiotics will not get penetrance of something like that. Some vets will even say you will get NO penetrance if rifampin (or something like that) is not used in conjunction with another big gun antibiotic.


                      • #12
                        It's possible, in humans, to hunt for occult/hidden infections with a tagged WBC scan, which is similar to a bone scan but the isotope is tagged to antibodies (IIRC) which go to the white blood cells and thence to wherever there's a pocket of infection.

                        Not certain (but I'm not a vet, of course) how clearly hemoglobin and fibrinogen levels being "off" points to an infection, though. Fibrinogen levels can go off the wall if the horse smacks itself on something or eats a bunch of noxious weeds, and hemoglobin levels in horses are all over the place anyhow.

                        ETA, nope, the tagging stuff is indium, which likes to hang around with white blood cells.
                        Click here before you buy.


                        • #13
                          I think they can tag equine WBC with technesium, if you're looking for an abscess.
                          "It's like a Russian nesting doll of train wrecks."--CaitlinandTheBay

                          ...just settin' on the Group W bench.


                          • Original Poster

                            Interesting re: abscess.

                            Will mention possibility to my vet.

                            Owner is more into natural remedies, so a month of a risky antibiotic like Exceed may be a hard sell without some sort of evidence.

                            Now...would you RIDE this horse?
                            Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


                            • #15
                              I'd not ride her, as I'd think that something that would cause that sort of lymphatic blockage would be quite uncomfortable.


                              • #16
                                Maybe this seems too obvious (and most likely already checked) but could it be an allergy to bedding or spray or laundry detergent?

                                I hope it turns out to be something simple.
                                Fils Du Reverdy (Revy)- 1993 Selle Francais Gelding
                                My equine soulmate
                                Mischief Managed (Tully)- JC Priceless Jewel 2002 TB Gelding


                                • #17
                                  Is it an excess of phosphorous that causes 'big head disease'? If there is an unbalanced mineral ratio, would have that have started the head enlargement, and the body edema might be something else entirely? This is very unusual. Please keep us posted, and good luck getting a firm diagnosis and a treatment plan underway.
                                  RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


                                  • #18
                                    Could it be some sort of autoimmune disease? Maybe linked to being white? Is the horse then a sort of albino? Very interesting case. Would love pictures to show my vets.


                                    • #19
                                      Mold is around in the winter also, and mold allergies are a real bugger. I don't know about how one goes about checking for them, but I took Cholesteramine for about 7 months to rid myself of it, and now take citrus pectin when the mold levels kick up. Cholesteramine is for cholesterol treatment in humans, not sure what you would use in horses if it has anything to do with it. I also am lead poisoned, and the mold binds to lead. I did not swell up except in the face, around the eyes, and frighteningly, in my throat. I did feel like I was swollen all over and unfortunately, was convinced to take a supplement that contains quercetin as the first ingredient, which had the effect of surpressing any allergic reactions so that I never sneezed or had overly flowing sinuses. What I did get was the feeling that my throat was going to close up, and I could not get a deep breath. Not fun.

                                      Can you move the horse from this farm and environment to see if that helps?
                                      "We, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit." JFK


                                      • Original Poster

                                        We did try treating her for allergies, but no fix. Hard to pin point anything as she had it happen in winter, when outside 24/7, and will also have months of being fine. We can't come up with a commonality.

                                        Put her in a pasture separate from main area with metal shelter and left her outside for 2 weeks (off) and still head swelled. She was on different water too (house water so more treated vs barn water).

                                        Owner is away a lot, so what detergents and sprays used on her often change, so not a lot of consistency in what she has on her body...yet head swells equally with owner here or away.

                                        Will try to get pictures when the next big swell happens. Left her in 10 hours today (storm tonight) and was mostly down by the time she went out.

                                        Low in calcium (big head disease) very unlikely given her diet and my region.

                                        Candico, we think she is White. Pink skin, but developing black pigment in spots which I understand is common with dominant white. I do wonder if the colour comes with inherent weakness. I had suggested an ANA test, but owner decided to wait and see if new supplements helped. Maybe now she will ok it though.

                                        The idea of an abscess sound promising though...will run by vet in the morning!
                                        Freeing worms from cans everywhere!