Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Abdomen or Belly seems Rigid, Painful to Pressure

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

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

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

  • If you notice signs of colic, along with this sign.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Horses experiencing various illnesses, injuries, or abdominal pain (colic) may “splint” their abdomen. Their belly may appear tucked up and rigid, “drawn up” or distended. The abdominal wall may feel hard to the touch. Pressure with fingers or a hand may cause the horse to grunt, kick, move away, or withdraw in pain.

Taken alone, with no other sign of illness or injury this finding may not be that significant. Keep in mind that horses can learn an evasion response to being touched around the flank and mislead their owners into thinking they are in pain. If seen in combination with other findings though, especially colic, poor appetite or depression, it can be very significant.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to attitude and appetite, the presence of colic signs, heart rate, hydration and gut sounds. Also carefully assess the area itself. Maybe there is a traumatic injury or other local problem there. Gently feel the belly looking for injury, swelling or a pain response.

Compare the feel of the abdomen on left and right sides. Differentiate an evasion response from true pain by keeping your hand pressure there even if the horse withdraws, and only remove it when they yield (stop and accept the touch). Feel the muscles along the back looking for soreness, stiffness or swelling. Lead the horse and turn it both ways at the walk, looking for any deviation from normal movement. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will evaluate general health, looking for underlying causes for this finding. They will also carefully evaluate the abnormal area as well, hopefully separating a behavioral problem from a physical one.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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