Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Wound to Belly or Ribcage

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 want the wound repaired cosmetically, no matter the cost.
  • If you are concerned by the size and severity of the wound.

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

    This type of wound is more common than one would expect, and ranges greatly in severity. The most important factor is the location and depth of the wound and the structures involved.

    The space surrounding the abdominal organs is called the abdominal (peritoneal) cavity. The space surrounding the lungs and heart is called the thoracic cavity (pleural space). Wounds entering either of these spaces introduce bacteria that cause life-threatening infection. For this reason, penetrating injuries over the belly and chest should always be evaluated carefully by a vet.


    Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to rectal temperature, heart rate, and attitude and appetite. Note the location of the wound and call your vet. It may be helpful for you to send a photo of the injury to your vet.

    In some cases, a branch or other large foreign body is still lodged in place. Usually, it is best to leave this in place until your vet can evaluate it and remove it under controlled conditions. If you absolutely must remove the foreign object from your horse, understand that this may complicate your vet’s attempt to determine what internal structures have been impacted. Also, removal could cause severe bleeding or worsening of signs.


    Your vet will try to determine what internal structures are involved, and will monitor and stabilize your horse’s overall systemic health as a critical part of treatment. They may also use radiography, ultrasound or exploratory surgery to further clarify the extent of the damage. Sampling and lab analysis of the fluid from the respective body cavities can help determine whether a wound penetrated the abdominal or thoracic cavities.

    Your vet will likely choose to remove the foreign object and debride any badly damaged tissue. Wounds penetrating the abdomen or thorax may require drainage and flushing of these large body cavities.

    The better your horse’s physical exam findings are initially and after treatment, the less likely that important organs or structures are involved.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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