What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Veins on Face & Head are Very Defined


Engorged, defined vessels of the face, can result from recent exercise and be a normal finding. This is especially noticeable in horses with short coats and when sweaty after exertion.

It can also result from conditions that cause "damming" of the main veins that drains the face and head. A potential cause of this is jugular vein clotting and blockage (thrombosis), which is a complication that can occur in ill, hospitalized horses whose veins might have been damaged by intravenous catheterization or repeated needle puncture. Jugular veins are also damaged by repeated IV injection or incorrect technique (seen more frequently in race and performance horses).

Horses in heart failure may also have very defined veins on the head and face. A heart problem can cause a symmetric appearance of the engorged vessels on the left and right sides of the face.

  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), looking for other abnormalities. Especially check the appearance of the gums and check capillary refill on both sides of the horse. Listen to the heart for normal rate and sounds.

When you notice anything that seems strange about your horse's appearance, always try to compare the appearance of one side to the opposite side. Try to determine whether the problem is worse on the left or right side. Feel the jugular groove area for a "cord" a clot within the jugular vein on that same side. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

your vet's role

Your vet assesses general health and rules out any condition that might be interfering with blood drainage from the head. They especially rule out jugular vein problems.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Do you notice swelling on either side of the horse's neck?
  • Does the appearance look similar on left and right sides?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP