Sometimes it is not easy to check whether your horse is in good health. Some problems are more visible than others. We offer you 5 simple tips to check that your horse is in good health. In case of doubt, the best thing to do is to contact your vet who will be able to check the health of your horse. Even before talking about the vital signs that can be checked during an examination, it is important to observe your horse. The horse is a routine animal, it has its habits. A change in behaviour, such as a horse being more tired or, conversely, more agitated than usual, will be a first indicator of a potential

The temperature is a key to good health

Your horse's rectal temperature will be a first sign of your horse's health. It should be measured in the rectum, with a conventional thermometer that you can find on the market.

If you are interested in reference values, the normal temperature of an adult horse at rest is considered to be between 37.5°C and 38°C. However, there are slight variations between stallions and mares, the latter generally have a slightly higher body temperature. In foals, the normal temperature is more around 38.5°C.
It is important to note that physiological variations, mainly due to stress or heavy exertion, can cause temperatures to vary by +/- 0.5°C.
A horse will be considered to have a fever when its temperature rises above 38.3°C. Of course if you take your horse's temperature in the middle of the summer or after an effort the temperature can reach 38.3°C but this is normal given the situation. On the other hand, a horse at rest on a day without excessive heat should be below 38°C.
Once again, variations in the "reference" temperatures can be a sign of a problem, do not hesitate to call your vet.
Heart and lungs, indicators of good health
After taking your horse's temperature, it can be useful to quickly check the heart and lungs via the heart rate and respiratory rate.

The heart rate
When we talk about the horse's heart rate, we are talking about the number of contractions/relaxations of the heart in 1 minute.
In a healthy adult horse, the heart rate is approximately 30 to 40 beats per minute at rest. Note that when your horse is exercising, its heart rate can rise to 160 to 250 beats per minute. If it is in good health, after heavy exertion, the heart rate should fall back down fairly quickly.
For an adult horse at rest with a heart rate above 60 beats per minute is a sign of pain.
Again, in foals, the heart rate is higher than in adults. A healthy foal will then have a heart rate between 50 and 70 beats per minute.
Don't have a stethoscope to take your horse's heart rate? Don't panic! There are several methods for taking the pulse. You can find it under his neck, at the level of the ball and chain or even under the shoulder muscle. Each time, count the number of beats you feel in one minute.

Breathing frequency
When we talk about the horse's breathing frequency, we are talking about the number of inspirations + expirations (breathing cycle) made by your horse in 1 minute.
In a healthy adult horse, the breathing rate will be approximately 10 to 14 breathing cycles per minute. Of course, when your horse is exercising, the respiratory rate will increase in order to provide the necessary oxygen and nutrients to the body. This is why the respiratory rate can increase to more than 45 cycles per minute during heavy exertion.

In foals, the respiratory rate is higher than in adults, it is between 20 and 40 respiratory cycles per minute.
To measure your horse's breathing rate, simply place your hand in front of his nose. All you have to do is count the number of times your horse breathes out There is no risk of the horse breathing through his mouth, unlike us, he is a compulsory nasal respirator (he can only breathe through his nose).
In addition to the breathing rate, you can also look at the 'outside' of your horse as it exhales. In a healthy horse, when exhaling, the sides should not become significantly enlarged. If this is the case, it means that your horse is contracting its muscles to breathe and this is not normal, especially in horses with emphysema.
As with heart rate, an increased respiratory rate in a resting horse is a sign of respiratory illness or pain.

Water as a source of good health

One thing to watch out for to keep your horse healthy is its hydration level. Your horse can lose up to 50 litres of water in a few hours. In addition, if your horse becomes dehydrated, it may not necessarily have the reflex to drink.

It is therefore important that you check your horse's hydration level, especially if it sweats a lot (after an activity).

To check this, pinch the skin at the neckline. When you release this crease, calculate how long it takes for the skin to return to its normal state without leaving a mark
If your horse is not dehydrated, the skin should return to its normal position in less than 2 seconds. However, the longer it takes for the skin to recover, the more severe the dehydration of your horse will be. In the event that the skin does not return to its place after 10 seconds, this is a vital emergency for your horse.

Mucous membranes, colour and good health

The mucous membranes of your horse are a very good reflection of its state of health. In the event of an internal problem, you may be able to detect it thanks to the colour of the mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes.

For the mucous membrane in the mouth, lift your horse's upper lip and press on the gum with your thumb, then observe the colour. It should be pink, neither too white nor purple. If you press on the gum with your thumb, it should fade but re-colour almost immediately, in less than 2 seconds. This also allows you to check your horse's hydration and venous return.

For the mucous membranes of the eye, using your index finger, press down on the upper eyelid and pull the lower eyelid down with your thumb to uncover the lower mucous membrane. You can also observe the colour of the mucous membrane, which should be pink to pale pink but should not be white or red. In addition to indicating general good health, the mucous membrane of the eye can be an indicator of an eye problem.

For the mucous membranes it is the colour that is important. In a healthy horse, the mucous membranes should be pale pink. If the mucous membranes are more red or even purplish, this can be a sign of inflammation (and usually a sign of high body temperature). If the mucous membranes are white, this can be a sign of dehydration. Finally, if the colour is more yellow, your horse may be suffering from a liver problem.

Dung and urine as a barometer of good health

Your horse's droppings and urine are a good reflection of what is going on internally, which is why it is sometimes worth looking at them to get an indication of its state of health.

If you are looking at the dung first, when the horse is in good health, its dung should be moulded, slightly moist and above all its smell should not be strong. This means that if your horse has relatively liquid or abnormally dry droppings, this should be a warning sign.

Finally, the absence of dung over a long period of time should be a real warning signal because it can be colic. In this case, you can listen to the intestinal sounds by sticking your ear to your horse's abdomen. If you do not hear anything or few noises, we advise you to quickly contact your vet and to follow the good practices in case of colic.

As far as urine is concerned, as with the mucous membranes, it is the colour that will give information on the horse's state of health. Thus, a healthy horse will have light yellow urine. If the urine is lighter, this may be a sign of kidney failure or diabetes. If the colour tends more towards orange, this may indicate that your horse is suffering from dehydration or intoxication. If your horse urinates very frequently and in small quantities, it may be a kidney problem. Finally, red urine can be a sign of pathology such as blood strokes, piroplasmosis or certain liver diseases. Just like dung, a lack of urine should alert you to the problem.

We are done with our tips for assessing the general health of your horse. Once again, if you have the slightest doubt, do not hesitate to contact your veterinarian who will be able to advise you.

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