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


Wound to Belly or Ribcage


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.

  • 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
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

If there is a foreign body, do not remove it unless advised to do so by your vet, or unless you absolutely must remove it in order to move your horse a distance to safety.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Where did the object penetrate?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Can you send a photo?
  • Can I have your location and directions to get to you as soon as possible?

Diagnostics Your Vet May Perform

Figuring out the cause of the problem. These are tests or procedures used by your vet to determine what’s wrong.

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP