Log in



goatlumpLumps, bumps, bruises and swellings of all types are all too common in livestock.  So if you spot a lump on your horse or cattle-beast or sheep, what does it mean?  How can you tell what it is, and what should you do about it? 

The lump (abnormal localised swelling) may well be one of the following:

  • an injury caused by trauma (if it is a recent injury there will be swelling, heat and pain)
  • an infection (such as cellulitis or abscess) often caused by bacteria, and often in an area that has been damaged by injury
  • arthritis (inflammation of a joint causing swelling, usually caused by trauma or infection)
  • oedema (fluid gathered beneath the skin), can be the result of allergy
  • a tumour, either benign (like a sebaceous cyst or a wart) or malignant.

If the swelling is in the head or throat area and interfering with breathing, or if it’s growing very rapidly or if it’s very painful, call a veterinarian urgently.

If it is painful at all, or growing noticeably, or interfering with the animal’s normal behaviour, eg causing lameness or preventing it from eating normally, consult a veterinarian as soon as is practicable.

The veterinarian will give a full examination and may take samples for testing before making a diagnosis and providing treatment.  With many lumps and bumps, making the correct diagnosis and giving a specific treatment right away can prevent much more serious problems later on.

If you phone your veterinarian, he or she will try to judge how urgently the animal requires treatment by asking questions like these, so be prepared to answer:

  • How long has the swelling been present?
  • Is it causing the animal problems, ie is it interfering with breathing or eating, is it impeding the animal’s normal movement or behaviour?
  • Is it painful to touch and press?
  • Where is the lump?
  • Does it seem to be very superficial in the skin, or does it involve deeper tissues?
  • Does it feel hot?
  • How large is it?
  • How well defined is it (ie is it circumscribed or poorly defined)?
  • What consistency does it have (ie does it feel hard and solid or does it seem soft, does it seem to have a fluid-filled centre)?
  • Has anything happened to the animal recently that might help explain the lump?

Some common lumps and bumps in cattle include

  • bruises and haematomas (a haematoma is a blood-filled space) caused by injury
  • an infection in an injured area or some other specific infection like lumpy jaw (infection of the bone of the jaw)
  • oedema between the mandibles (caused by liver or heart disease or low blood protein levels associated with starvation or worms)
  • arthritis

Some common lumps and bumps in sheep include

  • bruises and haematomas caused by injury
  • an infection in an injured area or some other specific infection like caseous lymphadenitis (an infection of lymph nodes) or tooth root abscesses
  • arthritis

Some common lumps and bumps in goats include

  • bruises and haematomas caused by injury
  • an infection in an injured area
  • goitre (swelling of the thyroid glands just below the throat)
  • arthritis

Some common lumps and bumps in horses include

  • bruises and haematomas caused by injuries such as kicks from other horses
  • an infection in an injured area or some other specific infection like strangles (an infection in lymph nodes in the throat area)
  • capped hocks caused by kicking out at a solid surface
  • tumours (like sarcoids and carcinomas and melanomas)
  • small firm swellings over the back and saddle area (eg allergy to insect bites).

Some lumps are ‘normal’.  For example, some vaccines leave a lump at the injection site, commonly on the side of the neck.  In young horses (from about 2 to 5 years of age) there are often swellings in the bone of the lower jaw around the roots of erupting cheek teeth. 

In a short article like this, we can give only very general advice, and there many more possible causes of lumps and bumps than are listed here.  Most of these require some treatment if you want the lump to go away. 

So once again the bottom line is - if in doubt, see your veterinarian

Go to top

Sign up for my monthly newsletter!

Get all the latest news along with practical tips and expert advice.