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Checking Your Horse for Signs of Disease

Your veterinary surgeon should carry out a general health check on your horse at least once a year but as owners we can check our horses on a daily basis to ensure that any signs of disease or discomfort are identified early.

Follow this guide to find out how you can perform a regular horse health check to spot signs of disease.

Horse health checklist

In most cases routine checks are second nature and often you will perform them subconsciously every time you ride, groom, feed, bring in or turn out your horse.

Here’s a handy list of regular checks to make:

1. Skin and coat - Check daily for signs of itching, hair loss or any wounds or abrasions which may need veterinary attention

2. Appetite - Monitor daily. Lack of appetite can be a symptom for a large number of conditions including colic, dental disease and increased temperature.

3. Eyes, ears, nose - Check daily for any discharge, discomfort or injury.

4. Legs - Examine daily for any injury, heat or swelling. Also monitor for any lameness.

5. Urinary and faecal output - Monitor daily, decreased faecal output can be a symptom of conditions such as colic. Increased urinary output can be a symptom of conditions such as Cushing's Disease, which causes horses to drink more than normal.

6. Water intake - Monitor daily. Increases can be caused by conditions such as Cushing's Disease.

7. Behaviour - Abnormal behaviour can indicate that there is something wrong with your horse. For example, a horse which is much quieter than normal may have an increased temperature due to an infection or it might be in pain.

8. Heart rate, temperature and respiratory rate - These can be checked regularly. More details are given below.

If you have any concerns then contact your veterinary surgeon who will be able to give you advice.

Typical Values

Knowing the normal values for breathing rate, heart rate and temperature in your horse can be very useful in helping to identify stress or disease early. Any changes from these normal values could indicate a problem. The normal parameters for these are listed below.

Normal heart rate

The heart rate is measured with a stethoscope or by feeling the pulse in the lower leg or jaw. If at rest the heart or pulse rate is raised this may be a sign that the horse is in pain or stressed.

Normal heart rate at rest: 28-40 beats per minute (for an adult horse).

Heart rate during exercise: up to 200 beats per minute

The heart rate is measured with a stethoscope or by feeling the pulse in the lower leg or jaw.
The heart rate is measured with a stethoscope or by feeling the pulse in the lower leg or jaw.

Normal Respiratory rate

Breathing rate can be measured with a stethoscope or by watching the sideways expansion of the chest. The rate can often be raised when the horse is stressed or sick.

Normal rate at rest: 8 -14 breaths minute (for an adult horse).

Normal Temperature

The temperature is taken by inserting the thermometer into the anus of the horse and holding against the side of the rectum. Do not stand directly behind the horse when taking the temperature.

Low readings may be taken if the thermometer is inserted into a piece of faeces by accident. It is important to seek advice from your veterinary surgeon if you are inexperienced at this.

Normal temperature at rest: 99.5-101.3°F or 37.5-38.5°C (for an adult horse).