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


Jugular Vein or Pulse Seems Over-Full in the Neck


The jugular vein carries blood from a horse's head back to its heart. It is located within the jugular groove, on the lower side of the horse's neck. In a normal horse, the jugular vein is a collapsed "balloon" - it is not filled with blood visibly and should not visibly pulsate.

In a normal horse, you might notice subtle visible pulsation in the very lowest part of the jugular groove where the neck joins the shoulder. Other than this, the jugular vein should not be obvious and does not protrude unless blood flow is held off manually. You will also notice that in a normal horse, the vein fills with blood when the horse lowers its head below the level of it's heart.

If the jugular vein is swollen or the pulse in it is visible through the skin, it can indicate heart failure or other potentially serious condition. A firm, ropy swelling of the vein could indicates clotting (thrombosis) of the vein, usually resulting from improperly administered IV injection(s), or inflammation following IV catheterization.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • 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.

your role


What To Do

First, notice whether both sides appear similar. Do you notice an obvious pulse in the enlarged jugular? Press on the enlarged jugular vein low on the neck, to assess whether it is firm and "corded", or soft and fluid- feeling. Notice whether the vein fills up above your hand.

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to heart rate and sounds (listen for murmur or arrhythmia), pulse, gum color and capillary refill time. Lift the horse's head above heart level to see if the swelling or pulse goes away. Consider the horse's appetite and attitude. Contact your vet to discuss your findings and concerns.

your vet's role

Your vet determines the cause for the abnormal appearing area through a careful history and physical exam. They will assess heart function. In some cases, ultrasound can be very helpful for visualizing the jugular vein.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Describe the swelling?
  • Is there pulsation?
  • Is the swelling soft and fluidy-feeling or firm?
  • How is your horse's attitude and appetite?
  • When you lifted the head higher, did the pulse go away?
  • Do you get a pain response when you press on it?
  • Do you notice other signs?
  • What is the horse's heart rate and respiratory rate?
  • 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
more treatments

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP