The Lymphatic System and the Extremities: Preventing and Treating “Stocking Up”

As horse owners, riders, and lovers, we are dedicated to ensuring that our horses are as happy and healthy as possible. In the day to day management of your horse’s health, there are undoubtedly many things that you have to keep in mind, but perhaps one of the most important things to help your horse manage is the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a highly complex system of vessels and nodes designed to help facilitate and regulate the levels of fluid in the body, as well as to promote cellular health and fight off infection. Proper management will promote the healthy circulation of the lymphatic system, keeping your horse’s body free of swelling and inflammation. Continue reading for more information on the equine lymphatic system, “stocking up”, and how to work with your veterinarian to manage your horse’s lymphatic health to ensure that they are as comfortable and healthy as possible.

What Is “Stocking Up?”

Between the muscles, organs, and other cellular structures in the body, a substance known as interstitial fluid exists. The lymphatic system works to collect and return the interstitial fluid to the venous (deoxygenated) blood. The movement of the body and contraction of muscles aids the process of lymphatic flow, so it is no surprise that horses that do not live an active lifestyle face issues regarding the lymphatic system.In their natural form, horses are “flight” animals; always in a constant state of movement, free to run, leap, and play as they please. In most modern equine practices, horses are kept confined in stalls for at least a portion of the day or night. The absence of exercise-which is clinically referred to as lymphatic retraction- that the equine body is naturally designed to take part in allows the pooling of fluid in the lower extremities, known in the horse industry as “stocking up”, and clinically known as edema. This is a condition that is likely to affect horses who are on stall rest due to an injury as well. When a horse is experiencing “stocking up”, the owner may notice that when they visit their horse from their stall in the morning, there is a considerable amount of swelling in the lower legs, but after some exercise, the swelling goes down. The owner may also notice that though the swelling goes down after exercising, they may discover that when they return the next day, the horse’s legs are swollen once more after spending the night in their stall. This is an extremely common scenario, and though it may look unpleasant, if your horse does not seem to be in any pain while exercising or while standing still, “stocking up” is a simple and easily corrected problem with the proper medical attention from both you and your veterinarian, and with a strategic plan to manage the condition to ensure your horse’s well-being.

Developing A Plan To Help Your Horse

Keeping all of this in mind, a knowledgeable horse owner can develop a strategic and smart way to assist the lymphatic system in keeping the horse’s lower extremities free of swelling and inflammation. Ensuring regular turnout for durations as long as permitted by your veterinarian is a great start; keeping your horse in his or her stall for the majority of the day will only contribute to the problem presented by fluid build-up in the extremities. Try to make a point to have your horse turned out on their own in a smaller-sized paddock with even footing; if your horse is given too much space to run, or is turned out in a paddock with uneven footing, this situation places your horse in danger of worsening their condition. It is also extremely important to ensure that the horse is being regularly exercised, as participating in exercise once or twice a week may just not be enough for some horses. If you speak with your veterinarian and discover that your horse is stocking up due to a lack of proper exercise, it is a good idea to work with them to develop a healthy exercise schedule that will better suit your horse’s needs in order to prevent any considerable amount of fluid build up in the extremities. Owners who have their horse on stall rest due to a prior injury will also need to keep the lymphatic system in mind; in cases such as these where the horse simply cannot partake in regular turnout or exercise due to their recovery period as a result of an injury, the legs can be wrapped in compression bandages to help prevent stocking up. These compression bandages should be taken off to inspect the status of the horse’s legs, and then they should be carefully reapplied each day. When permitted by your veterinarian, it can also be considerably beneficial to hand-walk your horse, even just up and down the barn aisles a few times a day in order to keep them active, and to assist the lymphatic system in facilitating fluid buildup in the extremities.

When it comes to managing the equine lymphatic system, the potential for success on your behalf really boils down to attention to detail and proper care, both in a preventative and reactive sense. Whether you are currently struggling to manage your horse’s lymphatic system and frequently find yourself working to treat swelling in your horse’s extremities, or you are looking to learn how to prevent issues in the future, it is a good idea to speak with your veterinarian to develop a plan that is custom-tailored to your horse’s individual needs. You can never be too cautious, especially when your horse’s health is concerned. The equine body can be quite complicated, and it can definitely be a bit difficult to manage at times, but with the proper preparation, care, and attention to detail on the part of both you and your veterinarian, you will be able to ensure that your horse is as happy and healthy as possible.

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