Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Burn, Chemical or Thermal, Known to have Occurred

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 the horse seems particularly distressed by the problem.
  • 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.
  • If the problem seems severe, or involves a large area.

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

  • If the problem seems very mild and limited to a small area.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Generally, serious seeming burns are an emergency. Even if they are not life-threatening, burns can be extremely painful to horses and very difficult to treat.

Thermal burns sustained in a fire, electric shock, or from lightning strike are uncommon but do occur. Chemical burns are rare in horses but occur due to the use, overuse or misuse of strong topical solutions or application of concentrates that are inadequately diluted.

Burns are graded from first to fourth degree, depending on severity:

– First degree burns are comparatively superficial and only damage the top layers of skin, they are often compared to a bad sunburn.

– Second degree burns are deeper and more painful, but not life-threatening.

– Third degree burns extend beyond the dermis into the subcutaneous tissues.

– Fourth degree burns penetrate even deeper into muscle tissues.

– Large second, third and fourth degree burns that cover over half of the body can be life-threatening, and result in secondary complications such as infection, dehydration, and pneumonia (due to smoke inhalation).


What you can do depends on the type of burn (thermal or chemical), severity (depth and size) of the burn, location and degree of pain your horse is experiencing. Very minor burns may require little treatment. If the burn covers a large area or is on your horse’s face, ears, around the eyes, or on the lower legs, prompt treatment by a vet is required in attempt to prevent scarring and loss of anatomical function.

If possible, gently hose down any horse that has sustained a thermal or chemical burn. In a fire, small embers that may not be visible, may continue to burn through skin. Likewise, chemical burns may persist until the chemical is removed from the tissues.


Your vet determines the nature and severity of the burn, and chooses a course of action based on that. Care may start with body-wide treatments like IV fluids and shock medications. Some horses that are seriously burned in fires will need intensive care and may still not survive.

What Not To Do

Do not attempt to assess, touch or treat your horse if it appears to cause your horse significant discomfort, pain or stress. Simply put them in a stall until your vet arrives.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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