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


Grunting or Groaning when Breathing


Horses that grunt or groan when they breathe are usually responding to pain. When the diaphragm and ribcage move with each breath, this stretches or moves an injured area, stimulating pain receptors.

Injuries and illness associated with this observation usually relate to the chest, abdomen, or abdominal organs, and are often serious.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If this problem seems severe and has come on suddenly.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the problem is subtle or slowly changing.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

Perform the Whole Horse Exam ("WHE"), paying particular attention to rectal temperature, heart rate, gum color, attitude and appetite.

Try to differentiate this observation from respiratory noise resulting from interference with airflow in the airway, and contact your vet immediately with your findings and concerns.

your vet's role

A vet begins by assessing general health with history and physical examination, first ruling out external injuries that might indicate traumatic injury. X-ray and ultrasound may contribute to diagnosis. First aid and emergency measures may be required in a horse that is struggling to breathe, or is in pain when breathing.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • How is your horse's attitude and appetite otherwise?
  • Do you notice swelling or a wound anywhere?
  • How old is the horse?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Have you notice any problems in the recent past?
  • Does the horse have a fever?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

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