Taking your horse's temperature

When you have the idea that your horse is feeling under the weather, it can be useful to check if it has a fever, because this can be an indication of various (serious or less serious) diseases. In addition, in the event of an outbreak of a contagious disease, such as strangles, it is recommended take your horse’s temperature preventatively. But how do you actually do this? In this article you can read all about the horse’s body temperature, how to take it and tips for horses that have difficulty with the thermometer. 


The horse’s body temperature 

The core temperature is the temperature within the body of a human or animal. Each animal species has a different temperature range within which the body functions best. For most mammals, including horses and humans, their body temperature would normally be above the ambient temperature. They are warm-blooded animals that can moderate their body temperature. Unlike cold-blooded animals, that have to depend on the environment. 


In horses, the normal body temperature is between 37,4 and 38,0 degrees Celsius. This is maintained by the hypothalamus, part of the brain. It continuously monitors the temperature in the body. As soon as changes take place, the hypothalamus ensures that mechanisms are activated that compensate for these changes. For example, when a horse’s ambient temperature becomes very cold, the hypothalamus sends signals to the skin that cause the skin to vibrate, the hairs to stand up, and the blood vessels to constrict. All these actions to ensure that the body temperature will not drop any further. And it works the same the other way around. If the ambient temperature is very high, the horse will sweat and the blood vessels will dilate to expel the heat. 


When the body temperature rises, there is a fever. Fever can be a symptom of a variety of diseases and conditions. It is a useful reaction of the body to an infection (from bacteria or virus), because the elevated temperature helps to fight this infection. If your horse has a fever, it is wise to take its temperature regularly (at least twice a day). This way you can keep a close eye on its temperature. How you should proceed if your horse has a fever depends on the overall situation, so consult your vet.


How do you take the horse’s temperature?

You can take your horse’s temperature yourself. It is advisable to do this regularly, even if your horse is healthy. This way you know what its base-line normal body temperature is and you can better estimate how much elevation there is should a fever occur. Take your horse’s temperature when it is resting, because the body temperature can rise after work. You measure the temperature rectally, so through the anus. You do not need a special horse thermometer, an ordinary human thermometer is fine. It is wise to attach a string to the thermometer and clip it to the tail or put it on your wrist. This prevents the thermometer from suddenly disappearing into the horse. Special horse thermometers are also available. These have a large bulge or round ring at the end that ensures that the thermometer can never slip in. 


To make insertion easier, you can rub the thermometer with petroleum jelly or lubricant. Then turn the thermometer on. For your own safety, stand to your horse’s side and not directly behind it when inserting it. Put the tail to one side and gently insert the thermometer into the anus with a circular motion. Place it fairly deep, so that you can only just read the screen. Leave the thermometer in until you hear the beep and then gently pull it out. The temperature is now visible on the screen. Clean the thermometer thoroughly after use. 


Horses that have difficulty having their temperatures taken

Does your horse object to having a thermometer inserted? Then it is wise to train this first before you take its temperature. First, do some ground work with your horse so that it learns to stand still. Then enlist the help of someone who can hold your horse and correct it if necessary, do not tie him. Then approach and touch your horse. Start at the withers and work your way up to its bum and tail step by step. When you have touched the horse all over and it stands quietly, walk away again. Is your horse moving away? Then keep your hand on your horse until it stops (or is stopped by your helper) and only then walk away. Work until you can eventually handle the tail, walk away again as soon as your horse relaxes. Does your horse stay still while you move its tail? Then you can go to the thermometer. 

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