Horse susceptible to cellulitis - tips?

New horse is susceptible to cellulitis. Last summer, the ShooFly boots she was wearing on her hinds must have caused microabrasions and she got it. Antibiotics, cold hosing, it was under control quickly. She can’t wear any kind of turnout boot on the hinds, but the fronts are fine. She got “mild” cellulitis a few other times because of a nick here and there, even when it was really dry out - I started smearing Desitin all over her pasterns every other day, and that seemed to keep everything under control for the summer.

I go to the barn every single day. I pick stalls and feet every single day. Her leg was not like this the day prior.

Last night I go to the barn - left hind is a balloon. I look her over, and find a piece of bedding that somehow abraded her leg right below her hock. I pulled it off and it weeped pus, not much but enough I’m confident that’s the cause (what are the odds of that, that she laid on a piece of bedding just right). She isn’t super lame on it, is willing to move around WTC. I hand walk her for awhile, then shave the area where I pulled the piece of bedding off and flush the bajeezus out of it. Texted vet for antibiotics. Bute and a round of icing completed. The swelling was markedly down already.

My question is - for horses that are prone to being sensitive like this, what is the best day-to-day management to help prevent it? Are there any supplements that actually work to boost immune/lymphatic function?

Thanks in advance for any tips, I appreciate it!

Moving to Connecticut has made me very familiar with cellulitis after not having a single experience in over 20 years of horse keeping.

Supplementing copper and zinc has been huge in reducing frequency down to (knock on wood) zero. I have had to play around with amount–one horse was stubbornly persistent but has FINALLY settled with one full scoop of poly copper & poly zinc daily.

I find frequent cellulitis and frequent hoof abscessing to go hand in hand, too. Copper and zinc have also put a stop to that.


She hasn’t had any abcesses, knock on wood. A no-known-cause joint infection is why she never raced while on the track - she trained, then was in the clinic with the infection, then wasn’t interested in the life when she went back (I didn’t know this when I bought her…) - so it just seems like her immune system isn’t up to par.

I had my late mare on copper and zinc, but not this new gal. I’ll get some on order, can’t hurt to give it a try. Thanks!

For my older mare, I’ve had two things that have been successful.

First, Silver Whinny Socks. My vet gave me my first pair, and then I bought another set to have when the first is being washed. They have silver built into the fibers and are compression socks. Unless it is terribly muddy, I can leave them on her 24/7 and just check once per day to make sure they haven’t slipped. Granted, this mare is 28 and retired, just hanging out in a paddock or pasture grazing - you’d need to remove for a working horse when riding/lunging/etc.

Second, the SmartPak SmartImmune supplement. My mare tends to have issues with scratches and cellulitis more in the winter so last winter I started this supplement and she had zero episodes! I only feed it during the winter since she is fine 75% of the year when out walking on bigger pasture.


I was looking at the SmartImmune last night. I tend to be pretty skeptical of supplements in general, so am glad to hear a first hand account that it helped.

I’ll have to be careful to balance everything, as she already gets E-Se-Mag and a probiotic.

I feel your pain. I researched cellulitis in-depth several years ago when my horse got it. After recovery, I fed copper/zinc, kept the leg clean, wrapped for a time, and then didn’t wrap. I tried it all. I read dozens of equine hospital and vet school articles. In the end, I concluded there’s not much you can do externally to prevent it, so I took the benign neglect approach to save my sanity. Also read that the horse doesn’t need more immunity - the immune system is OVER reacting to an invasion, hence the super swollen leg and/or serum weep, etc. That’s why many vets prescribe Dex in the early stages (along with antibotics/banamine) to reduce the body’s hyper-immune response to bacteria, etc. Over 6 years owning the horse, I had 1 pretty bad case and 1 mild (totally fine in 4 days) case. They both occurred during the summer and we couldn’t find correlation to a cut, no scratches/fungus, muddy conditions or trauma. Horse was otherwise healthy and competition fit. PS: I started using Shoo-Fly boots 2 years ago to prevent horse from possibly hurting himself kicking at flies. Haven’t had a case since using them.

A 20 yr old TB at our barn also had severe cellulitis years ago. His recovery took 6+ months and he finally became pasture sound for about a year. I assume his age and overall condition were contributing factors.


From what I understand, it’s categorized as an immune issue because it relates to the lymphatic system.

I still haven’t heard back from my vet - heading out to ice it and put her on the lunge to move around. Hopefully vet will get back with me… despite me leaving blank checks and never bothering them unless it’s a serious issue, the vet is sorely lacking in communication…

Very experienced with this - including cellulitis in the middle of the coldest January in WI I have ever experienced 2 years ago.

Because of the reoccurrences, the vet thought we might have killed a lot of the good bacteria along with the bad in his gut and on his skin with all the antibiotics. So we started him on HorseTech pre/probiotics. He also gets up to 8,000IU Vitamin E and extra copper and zinc.

I don’t wash his legs, don’t clip them, and mostly do benign neglect after very gently cleaning any cuts or nicks (mostly patting with a baby wipe). When he gets scratches, I gently smear on a mix of 40% zinc oxide + triple antibiotic ointment + hydrocortisone + antifungal cream.

I don’t disturb any scabs on his legs until they are ready to fall off pretty much on their own.


Yes, you’d need to be careful on the balance since the horse is already receiving some supplements. The only other supplement my mare receives is MSM, so that wasn’t a major concern for me.

My mare has had issues with scratches/mud fever as long as I’ve owned her (24 years). For the most part, I’ve just used the benign neglect plan. But 4-5 years ago, she had a severe case of cellulitis morphed into lymphangitis, which is what started the annual battle every winter. She’s actually been awesome this winter, not sure what the change is except that the ground hasn’t been frozen until recently so I think she can move around more.

She gets a probiotic (gutwerks), and 1000IU of E. I don’t hose her off often, and desitin seemed to take care of the mild scratches she got in the summer. She hasn’t been on any antibiotics since late spring of 2020.

I’m going to text my vet again - I just went out to check on her and move her around, and there’s no improvement this morning. She is shockingly sound for how her leg looks, but her face says she doesn’t feel very good. Her hock looks so uncomfortable. :frowning:

How are her TPR? When my mare had the severe case a few years ago, everything elevated and that was when I called the vet - he came out immediately.

She seems totally fine otherwise. Begging, eyes bright, her temp this morning was 100. When you make her walk/trot though, even though she’s still moving ok and doesn’t balk, her nostrils are pulled and her eyes get a little hard. It was better towards the end of the 10-15 minutes of structured walking, but not normal for her expression to change like that.

She’s out in a pasture with her two boyfriends right now. With 20" of snow, I’m getting some free icing. But I really need it on her hock, not her ankle. I did 20 minutes this morning and it didn’t touch it. I’ll go back out around noon.

I have an hock ice boot I lost the ice packs for, I think I’ll bring it and just cram it full of snow.

1000 iu of supplemental E is really on the very lower end of what’s advised for “normal” horses. Bumping that up might help.


My horse used to flare 1-2 times a year, and they were always a pain to resolve, until we identified that she had Cushings. We got that under control and she’s been without a flare since (knocks on wood repeatedly). Not sure if it’s worth looking into?

I also use the BoT quick wraps anytime she’s in overnight but it might just be to make me feel better :slight_smile:


My previous mare in her later years had several bouts of cellulitus. For her, it always corresponded to a re-infection or resurgence of Lyme disease.

It might be worthwhile asking the vet to check for Lyme.

Good luck.

1 Like

Going to pick up the antibiotics now. My vet suggested 10ccs of dex (2mg/mL). My god does that seem high… does that seem high to anyone else, or is that normal to try and shock the system?


10cc of Dex is normal for the first 1 or 2 days max. Then drop down to 5cc for 3-4 more days.

1 Like

I think that’s the idea. Makes sense if cellulitis is auto-immune related. I have an AI condition & treatment for a flare always starts with a mega-strong course of antibiotic & then tapers.

When my Shire had cellulitis, I want to say that the vet administered more than one antibiotic. Definitely Baytril. Remember that because of the cost. Probably Dex as well.

1 Like

My vets have never rxd dex, even when the horse was fracture lame and filled to the groin.

We’ve occasionally used naquasone at the end, to get out the stubborn persistent filling.

I generally put the horse in a sweat wrap immediately, and start SMZs and banamine. If I don’t see improvement there, we usually go to Naxcel.

Good luck, hope you see speedy improvement!


Sweating is something I’ve been meaning to get more educated on, but alas…

I have a general idea, but can you lay out how you do it? I would really appreciate it!