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Equine Health Resource

Foal or Newborn, Fractured or Broken Ribs

Fractured ribs are the most common fracture in baby foals, and usually occur during a difficult birth (dystocia).

Signs may include swelling over the rib cage, most commonly in the area behind the elbow. The swollen area is usually painful, and crunching or crackling may be felt or heard when the area is palpated. Affected foals may grunt when breathing or moving, and generally appear uncomfortable.

Simple rib fractures heal well with time, stall confinement and no treatment. Severe fractures or multiple fractures of individual ribs may require surgical repair. If multiple ribs are fractured in multiple places, a condition called “Flail Chest” may develop, in which the normally (relatively) rigid chest wall loses its structure and becomes mobile with respiration. This causes respiratory dysfunction. In some cases, fractured ribs can puncture the lungs, heart, or the large vessels in the chest, which can cause fatal hemorrhage.

Diagnosis requires veterinary exam, ultrasound or x-ray (radiography).

Treatment may be conservative (stall confinement) and in more serious cases may involve a variety of surgical procedures. In some cases, other damage may need to be treated simultaneously, examples include pneumothorax or internal bleeding.


  • Can you tell how many ribs are fractured and how severely?
  • Do you think that these rib fractures are a danger to the foal and need further treatment?
  • Do you know that there is no collapsed lung (pneumothorax) or other internal injury?

    Your vet should manage dystocia promptly, correctly and gently as possible. Avoid excessive traction on a foal's limbs during dystocia. Be on the lookout for this condition.
    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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