Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Sores on a Down Horse

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

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

  • Any down horse that is unable to rise is a veterinary emergency.

Generally, any horse that lies down for longer than 24 hours for any reason has a poor prognosis. Horses simply are not made to be down for extended periods. Their massive weight causes damage to tissues, including muscle, nerves and skin. Skin injury results in ulcers or sores.


Never nurse a down horse for extended periods of time without talking to your vet and knowing what you expect to gain by this approach. The underlying disease needs to be identified and treated, or the horse should be euthanized.

Down horses should be rolled from one side to the other every few hours to help reduce development of sores. Generally, horses do better kept propped on their chest (sternal) than lying on their sides for extended periods. Forgiving, clean, deep bedding is critical to the management of down horses.

Sores may be treated with basic wound care and topical antibiotics. Infected sores (swelling around the wound, pain to pressure, or increased drainage) may require additional care, possibly systemic antibiotics and bandaging.


Sores developing on a down horse is a sign of chronicity. Your vet evaluates the underlying disease process and reconsiders the merits of continuing therapy in light of the development of sores.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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