Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Bleeding from Anywhere on Body, Severe

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

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

    The most common reason for visible bleeding on a horse’s body is a traumatic wound. Excessive bleeding can also occur after a castration or other surgical operation, if the surgical wound breaks open.

    In rare cases, bleeding can occur from a body orifice, most commonly the nostrils. This can indicate hemorrhage into the lower respiratory tract, guttural pouch, sinus or nasal passage (see that related record).

    Clotting abnormalities are rare (loss of platelets or clotting factor proteins normally produced in the liver) but can also cause widespread bleeding.

    Generally, horses can lose about 8% of their body weight in blood before going into severe shock. That is about 8 gallons of blood for a 1000 lb horse.


    Most severe bleeding from a location can be controlled with consistent, firm pressure placed directly on the source of hemorrhage. A towel or gauze is ideal but a finger or heel of hand can work too. While it is not always possible to visualize the source let alone put pressure on it, one can usually block blood flow emanating from the wound and cause sufficient back pressure on the source to at least slow bleeding until help arrives.

    Signs of severe blood loss include distress, sweating, rapid heart rate, and pale mucous membranes. If there has been enough blood loss to cause these signs of shock, your vet should examine your horse immediately.

    In some cases, bleeding is not proportional to the size of the wound, or it may persist, possibly indicating the existence of a clotting disorder or involvement of a large vessel.


    Your vet determines the general cause of the bleeding. This may involve assessment of overall health and clotting function. Depending on the nature of the bleeding, a vet might tie off (ligate) a bleeding vessel, put pressure on a leg wound to stop bleeding, or give medications to help improve clotting function. In all cases, they will treat predisposing causes for the bleeding.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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