Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Traumatic Injury Bruise or Contusion

Your horse has sustained trauma resulting in a generalized injury. Rupture of small vessels in tissues causes bruising, which is blood from tiny vessels that leaked into the space under the skin. Traumatic injury, inflammation of blood vessel walls, and clotting problems can all cause bruising.

Once the vessels have stopped bleeding, inflammatory cells begin to clean up the red blood cells and digest their contents. The color changes (greenish and yellowish) seen over time represent the breakdown of the blood pigment hemoglobin. Since most horses have dark skin, we are not always able to see this process taking place. We usually notice a contusion as swelling in an area.

When the cause of an injury is not known, trauma is a common fallback diagnosis for pain, swelling, and lameness. In horses, trauma often results from impacts from other horses or collisions with stationary objects. This impact causes swelling and inflammation, it breaks blood vessels and allows leaking of serum and blood into an area. In addition, it may directly damages specific anatomic structures within the affected area. Trauma is considered as a cause for disease whenever appropriate.

I Might ObserveRelated Observations

Skin Feels Warm or Hot, Heat in a Local Area
Kicked or Bitten by other Horse, Witnessed
Soft, Jiggly Swelling Between Front Legs
Lameness, Generally
Lameness, Immediately Following Trauma or Accident
Swelling on Back or Topline
Swelling around One Eye or Eyelid
Difficulty Advancing Front Limb or Leg
Skin Seems Reddened or Irritated in a Location
Swelling, Anywhere on Body, Generally
Abrasion or Scrape on Lower Limb or Leg
Swelling Under Belly or Lower Abdomen
Abrasion or Scrape, Anywhere on Body
Stifle Area Seems Swollen
Swollen Hock, Generally
Swelling around One Eye or Eyelid
Swelling around Shoulder & Elbow
Swelling on Chest
Swelling of Upper Front Limb or Leg
Swelling on Back of Lower Limb, Flexor Tendon Area
Swelling over Ribcage (in Adult)
Swelling of Scrotum in Stallion
Pain Response to Pressure on Flexor Tendons or Suspensory Ligament
Purple, Red or Dark Spots on Gums or inside Nostril
Healing Leg Wound, Sudden Increase in Swelling, Drainage or Lameness
Swelling on One Side of Head or Face
Swelling of Upper Hind Limb or Leg
Accident, Hoof or Limb Trapped in Steel Grate, Cattle Guard
Bucked Shins, Pain Response to Pressure over Front of Cannon Bones in Race Horse
Swelling on Side of Jowl or Cheek
Swelling of Jaw or Under Jaw
Membranes of Mouth, Gums appear Blue or Purple
Change in Appearance of Coronet Band
Hard Bump on Inside of Lower Hock
Foal Lameness, 1-6 Months Old
Stiff Neck or Back, Resists Lateral Bending
Localized Muscle Loss in an Area
Sheath Swelling or Enlargement
Swelling on Side of Jowl or Cheek
Foal or Newborn, Swollen Limb or Leg
Bump or Swelling around Coronet or Pastern
Single Lump or Swelling on Lower Limb or Leg
Swelling of Lip, Muzzle or Nose
Carpus (Knee) Swollen
Lump, Bump, Growth on Face or Head
Lump, Bump, Growth on Shaft of Tail
Edema or Firm Swelling Under Belly of Very Pregnant Mare
Lump, Bump, Growth, on Mouth, Lips, or Chin
Swollen Fetlock (Ankle)
Lump, Bump, Growth on Leg
Swelling on Top of Hip, One Side or Both
Newborn Foal, White of Eye is Red or Bloodshot
Lump, Bump, Growth on Muzzle
Neck Swelling
Traumatic Incident Witnessed
Single or Multiple Lumps, Bumps, or Growths on Back
Swollen Ear
Skin is Sloughing Off, Anywhere on Body
Lump, Bump, Growth in Throat Area, Behind Jaw or Under Ear
Swelling of One Lower Limb or Leg
Groin Swelling in Mare or Gelding
Bump or Swelling around Anus, Vulva or Tail Base, Non-Gray Horse


Horses are particularly prone to sustaining traumatic injury because of their size, speed and overdeveloped flight response.

Horse owners should use common sense in management and horsemanship to minimize the incidence of trauma. When horses are trained to yield to pressure (the flight response is reduced), they are caught easily, tie reliably and are less likely to react violently, and so are less likely to be injured.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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