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


Swelling over Ribcage (in Adult)


In a normal horse, there is skin and a layer of fat of variable thickness (depending on body condition) overlying the rear part of the rib cage. The front part is covered by the heavy muscles of the trunk. The inter-costal muscles lie between the individual ribs over the whole rib cage.

Swelling over an area on the ribcage usually indicates trauma. If it is severe and combined with respiratory distress or depression, a rib fracture is possible. As with any other location, other causes for swelling are always possible.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse has no appetite and is obviously depressed.
    • If there is severe swelling and your horse is making respiratory noise or seems to be having difficulty breathing.
    • 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.
    • If the swelling is mild or moderate, and not increasing rapidly.

your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to attitude, heart rate, respiratory rate and rectal temperature. Gently press the swollen area and note whether there is a pain response. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

your vet's role

Using physical exam, assessment of the area, ultrasound and possibly radiography, your vet can determine whether or not there are fractured ribs or internal injury, and what treatments are necessary.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How severe is the swelling?
  • How is your horse's attitude and appetite?
  • Does the horse seem to be breathing rapidly or abnormally?
  • Is the area painful to the horse when you press on it?
  • 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