Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Head or Brain Trauma, Blow to Head

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

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

  • Even if the horse seems normal, it is best to start the conversation.

Your horse has sustained an impact to the head that you think may have been severe enough to cause brain damage.

Head injuries in horses are relatively common given their strength, mass, and speed, combined with their overdeveloped fight or flight response. Head injuries usually results from a fall or a high speed collision with an immobile object. The most common head injury I have seen results from horses rearing over backward and landing on the back of the head.

Horses with severe and immediate brain damage will probably not be able to rise or even roll onto their chest. The nature of the signs shown will depend on the area of the brain that has been injured. Some horses do not seem aware of their surroundings or may have seizures.

If possible and safe to do so, assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). If the horse is down, always work from the backside to avoid their legs. If your horse is standing they may be very unsteady on their feet and pose a great risk to handlers. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

Your vet uses physical and neurologic exams to determine the extent and likely location of the damage. They may choose to use strong anti-inflammatories and other medications to try to reduce brain swelling.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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