Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Veins on Face & Head are Very Defined

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

    Engorged, defined vessels of the face can result from recent exercise and be a normal finding.

    It can also result from conditions that cause “damming” of the main veins that drains the face and head. One cause of this condition is jugular clotting (thrombosis) which is a complication that often occurs in ill, hospitalized horses whose veins might have been damaged by intravenous catheterization. Jugular veins are also damaged by repeated IV injection or incorrect technique (seen more frequently in race and performance horses).

    Horses in heart failure may also have very defined veins on the head and face. A heart problem can cause a symmetric appearance of the engorged vessels on the left and right sides of the face.


    Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), looking for other abnormalities. Especially check the appearance of the gums and check capillary refill on both sides of the horse. Listen to the heart for normal rate and sounds.

    When you notice anything that seems strange about your horse’s appearance, always try to compare the appearance of one side to the opposite side. Try to determine whether the problem is worse on the left or right side. Feel the jugular groove area for a “cord” a clot within the jugular vein on that same side. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.


    Your vet assesses general health and rules out any condition that might be interfering with blood drainage from the head. They especially rule out jugular vein problems.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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