Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Gunshot Wound Suspected

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

    Thankfully, gunshot wounds are uncommon in horses. It can be impossible to differentiate a gunshot entry from any other puncture wound unless a bullet is located. Wounds thought to be caused by gunshot often turn out to be the result of another accident. On the other hand, I have examined a horse for a puncture wound, radiograph the area, and been surprised to find a bullet.

    The most important factor determining the severity of these wounds is the location of the entry and exit wounds and the structures that were traversed by the bullet. The caliber, type and velocity of the bullet determines the amount of damage to the impacted structures.

    These injuries are life-threatening if they involve an important organ or structure, such as an abdominal organ or the lungs. Gunshot wounds penetrating the limbs may cause fracture or damage to joints or other critical structures.

    WHAT TO DO

    If you suspect (or know) that your horse has been shot, note the location of the wound. If possible, assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) and promptly call your vet.

    WHAT YOUR VET DOES

    Your vet will try to determine what internal structures are involved and monitor or stabilize your horse’s overall systemic health.

    The diagnostics and treatments your vet uses will depend on the nature of the wound and the structures involved. Your vet may use radiography, ultrasound or exploratory surgery to further clarify the extent of the damage.

    They may choose to remove the bullet (or not) and might debride any badly damaged tissue. The more normal your horse’s physical exam findings, especially after several hours, the less likely that vital organs are involved.

    What Not To Do

    Do not apply antibiotic products to the injury, unless advised to do so by your vet. Do not try to remove the bullet yourself.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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