Why Are Your Horse’s Veins Stickin’ Out Like That?

So the other day I was groomin’ my boy Jupiter out in the pasture when I noticed his veins lookin’ weird.

They was stickin’ out real prominent under his coat.

Now Jupiter is a pretty lean thoroughbred, but his veins ain’t never looked like that before.

I started wonderin’, “what the heck is goin’ on with my horse?” Could he be dehydrated since it’s been so darn hot out? Wonder if I should give him some extra electrolytes in his water.

You’ll wanna read on to learn more about why your horse’s veins may be poppin’ and what you can do about it.

The main reason your horse’s veins may appear more visible is dehydration.

When a horse doesn’t have enough water in its system, the body will try to concentrate the fluids it does have closer to vital organs like the heart.

This causes the veins in the legs and neck to pop out more noticeably.

Causes of Dehydration in Horses

There’s a few different things that could be causin’ Ringer not to stay hydrated. First off, you gotta make sure he’s got constant access to water.


Nothin’ worse than seein’ an empty bucket on a hot summer day! We all know how fast thoroughbreds can chug down water, so you gotta refill that thing often.

One thing that’ll really zap the moisture out of a horse quick is workin’ him hard in hot weather. If you’ve been schoolin’ Ringer or even just ridin’ longer than usual on days when the thermometer’s pushin’ 90 degrees, he’s lose lots of fluids through sweat. Be sure to offer him electrolyte-enhanced water as a cooler after a hard ride or lesson.

Traveling can dehydrate a horse too. I remember one time I drove Ringo five hours to a show in the middle of August.

Even with stops to let him drink, by the time we arrived his veins were bulgin’ like nobody’s business from water loss through heavy panting in the enclosed trailer. Always have extra ice and buckets handy for travel days.

Sometimes underlying medical issues can cause poor water intake too. Horses with ulcers may drink less if it irritates their stomachs. Kidney or liver problems can limit a horse’s ability to process and store fluids properly. So watch out for any other symptoms and contact your vet if concerned.

Parasites are another potential culprit. If Ringo’s been ingestin’ too many little buggers like bots or small strongyles, they could be robin’ nutrients and fluids from his system. A fecal egg count from the vet can check his worm load.

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Other Possible Causes for Prominent Veins


While dehydration is a common cause, there are a couple other things that might make veins more visible too:

Genetics can play a role. Certain breeds have naturally lighter, more translucent skin so the veins pop more, like on an Arab. Conformation can contribute too – slim-legged horses may show veins easier than stockier types.

Weight loss for any reason will reduce the padding over the veins. One fall I had Ringo off work for a couple months with a splint. Without his regular exercise he dropped some muscle and fleshiness, so when he returned his veins were standin’ out more ’til he filled back out.

In rare cases, diseases that damage vessel walls could potentially cause bulging veins. Conditions like foal heat disease or equine Cushing’s might do this as the circulatory system is impacted. But these are much less common than dehydration.

Age can be a minor contributing factor. As horses get up in years, skin elasticity decreases a touch so veins may show more prominently even at a healthy weight. But good hydration habits keep veins lookin’ normal in senior citizens too!

What You Can Do If Veins Are Too Visible


If you’ve determined dehydration is the cause of those stand-out veins, the solution is gettin’ more fluids into your horse. Here are some tricks beyond just offerin’ lots of fresh water:

Adding electrolytes is key. The extra sodium, potassium, etc. really encourage drinkin’. I like horse recovery products with electrolytes to add to Ringo’s bucket after exercise on hot days.

Freezin’ juice cartons or water bottles and placing them in the water the night before really entices horses to sip all day as things melt. Keeps the water cooler too on those 95 degree afternoons.

If he’s truly dehydrated, you can give electrolyte paste or solution directly in his mouth with a syringe. Most horses will perk up after just a couple ounces that way. Watch him closely and limit other foods for a few hours after.

Monitor how much he’s drinking versus urinating. Dark, scant urine is a sign more hydration is needed still. Keep records and adjust electrolyte levels if color doesn’t lighten up within a day.

If not drinking enough on his own, consider soaking cubes of hay in electrolyte water before offering. Many horses will happily eat “juicy” hay and get fluids that way if they’re off their food from dehydration.

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Staying on top of his hydration, you’ll get those veins back under the coat in no time. Let me know if you have any other equine questions!

By the way, did you know horses have no sweat glands in their skin like humans do? They have to pant to cool down through evaporation from their respiratory tract. That’s why it’s extra important for them to replenish fluids on hot days through drinking.

Signs of Severe Dehydration in Horses


If Ringer ain’t drinkin’ enough on a hot one, it don’t take long for him to get real dehydrated. The worst part is sometimes it ain’t so obvious at first.

See, mild dehydration just has him feelin’ a little off and maybe his veins poppin’ out a bit. But once it gets serious, there are some scary symptoms to watch out for.

One of the first things you’ll notice is his gums gettin’ real dry lookin’. Instead of the normal shiny pink color, they’ll be pale and tacky to the touch. His eyes might also look sunken back in his head more than usual.

Then his breathing will pick up, even when he’s just standin’ around in the pasture not doin’ anything. He may start to act a little loopy and slow too.

If the dehydration progresses, the signs get worse. When you pinch his skin up on his neck, it can take way longer than normal to smooth back out – like 5 seconds or longer. His jaw bones might even look more prominently under his face too without the flesh coverage. In the worst cases, the skin on his legs will start to get these deep wrinkles like an elephant. That’s when you know it’s a full blown medical emergency.

Other problems can develop if fluids aren’t replaced. Without enough circulating volume, his kidneys can get overworked trying to concentrate the urine he does make.

Over time, this could potentially lead to kidney failures if dehydration is really severe and not addressed. So it’s super important to know what to look for so you can step in with treatment before things get that bad.

Treating Severe Dehydration

If Ringer’s showin’ any of them scary serious symptoms, drop everything and call the vet right away. Every minute counts with severe dehydration cause their organs are really strugglin’ without enough moisture. First thing is gettin’ fluids directly into his bloodstream where they’re needed most.

The vet will set up an IV catheter in one of Ringer’s big jugular veins in his neck. Then they can hang a big bag of electrolyte balanced fluids to replenish what he’s lost rapidly over the past hours. They’ll probably give some meds too to help his kidneys back into shape or calm digestive upset. All this IV treatment is best done on the farm versus haulin’ him in too.

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In the meantime, I start tryin’ to get liquids into him orally any way I can. Commercial drench, pedialyte, plain cold water – anything to get some hydration replenished while the IV does the heavy liftin’. I feed moist grass or hay small amounts often so his GI tract don’t get overwhelmed.

It’s super important not to leave Ringer alone and watch him like a hawk the next few days. His gums, urination, behavior – I note it all so I can catch any other issues early. With prompt aggressive treatment, most horses bounce back quick from even severe dehydration. But prevention is definitely best – don’t let it get this bad to start with!

Water Access Considerations

Even though Texas summers are scorchers, I’m lucky to have spacious pastures for my boys rather than keeping them in a dry lot. They love rollin’ in the tall grass and nibblin’ on wildflowers when they ain’t nappin’ in the shade. But this big space means spreadin’ out water sources so all five geldings don’t crowd the one tap.

I got three heavy-duty automatic fountain tanks now so there’s plenty to go around. Each one can fill over a hundred buckets between refills from the well line. The boys have learned their stations and won’t push each other away from a drink. I clean them out weekly with bleach water and scrub any algae buildup.

In the past I made the mistake of just setting out buckets close together. Well, you know how domineering Charlie can be – he pushed the others clear across the yard! So they’d end up all sweaty after herd battles rather than cooled off. These tanks eliminate squabbles so my horses stay hydrated and happy.

Come winter when it gets below freezing, I’ve got a back-up plan too. The tanks have heating elements to prevent freezing, and I bring in an insulated stock tank for their corral with a heavy-duty de-icer float. No slackin’ on water access even when temperatures dip!


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