Fever in horses

The normal body temperature of a horse is between 37 and 38.2 degrees. Up to a level of 38.5 degrees one speaks of elevated temperature, above 38.5 degrees is a fever. From 41 degrees fever becomes really dangerous for your horse.

Generally, the younger the horse, the higher the normal body temperature. In foals or young horses up to about 2 years of age, a temperature of up to 38.5 or degrees is considered normal. In very young foals even up to 39 degrees.

Fever is physiologically caused by the brain (more specifically, the hypothalamus) instructing the body to increase core temperature. This process is triggered by substances that act on the body. These fever-producing substances are called pyrogens. On the one hand, they are part of z. B. viruses, bacteria, toxins, drugs or fungi. On the other hand, there are also endogenous pyrogens, which are released for example when cells die off.

Hyperthermia should be distinguished from this, in which an increase in temperature is caused by external or internal "disturbances". In this case, the set point is not elevated and the increased temperature is a non-physiological response to bodily influences such as exertion or heat.

What are the classic symptoms of fever in horses??

Taking a temperature is considered to be the only absolutely reliable way to determine how high a horse’s temperature is. However, there are signs that can indicate a fever, which should not be overlooked in any case. This includes u. a.:

  • listlessness up to apathy
  • Sweating
  • Decreased water intake and loss of appetite
  • loss of performance and reluctance to move
  • swollen legs
  • strained respiration

These symptoms can indicate many other things besides fever. If you notice anything from the list in your horse, it is best to take your horse’s temperature. If the temperature is elevated or the symptoms persist for a longer period of time, it is best to call the veterinarian to get to the bottom of your quadruped’s illness.

How to take a fever in a horse?

The body temperature of horses is measured with a thermometer in the anus. Ideally you use a special thermometer for large animals, but also a normal one (for humans) does its job. Since measuring is unfamiliar and not necessarily pleasant for your horse, you should take a few tips to heart that will make it easier for you and your animal:

  • Do not stand directly behind your horse to take the temperature, but stand sideways next to its hind legs. Some horses fight back by lashing out, which can be dangerous for you.
  • It is best to have a second person help you hold your horse to prevent escape attempts.
  • Use some water, cream or oil (coconut oil is excellent) to facilitate the insertion of the thermometer and to avoid injuries.
  • Hold the thermometer tightly during the whole measuring process so that it does not disappear in your horse’s intestine.
  • It is best to repeat the measurement a second time a few minutes later in order to exclude possible measurement errors.
  • After a rectal examination by the veterinarian, the temperature to be measured is lower in the anus. Accordingly, wait a while before taking the temperature in order to get a correct reading.
  • The body temperature of horses is generally higher in the evening than in the morning. Therefore it is best to take the temperature in the morning and in the evening to get a reliable result.

ImportantAlso note that you should let your horse rest for at least 60 minutes before taking the temperature. Previous exertion may naturally raise the body temperature and falsify your reading.

The most common causes of fever in horses

The increase in body temperature in your horse can have very different causes. Nonetheless, the reasons for this phenomenon can be divided into broad categories.

  • infections caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi
  • Allergic reactions
  • Poisoning
  • Tumors
  • heat stroke or overexertion

Infections by viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi

A frequent cause of fever in horses is an infection by pathogenic agents. Besides viruses and bacteria, parasites and fungi are also possible. It is therefore advisable to have your horse regularly tested for worms in order to protect your horse from these parasites. On the one hand, the increased body temperature is useful for killing off pathogens that are not heat-resistant. On the other hand, the increased temperature boosts the metabolism, which also makes the defense process faster and stronger.

Note: Fever can also occur as a reaction to vaccination. In this case, it is best to contact your veterinarian.

Allergic reactions

An allergic reaction can also lead to fever. In case of allergy, the immune system reacts to certain substances in an extreme way, as if they were pathogens. Accordingly, fever may be one of the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction.


With different poisonings it can come likewise to fever. Here, too, the body defends itself against the toxin, so to speak, and sounds the immunological alarm. Since the fever is probably the "smallest" problem in this case, you should immediately seek veterinary help if you suspect poisoning.

Tumor diseases

Fever can also occur with tumor diseases. On the one hand the organism defends itself against the tumor, on the other hand tumors produce the so-called pyrogens. These substances interfere with the body’s thermoregulation and increase the target temperature, which leads to fever.

Heat stroke or overload

In these two cases, strictly speaking, it is not a fever, but the hyperthermia mentioned above. The overheating of the body can be attributed to external factors, especially great heat or overexertion of your horse.

How can you help your horse with a high fever??

If your horse’s body temperature rises, you must of course intervene. Pay attention to the circumstances in which the elevated body temperature occurs to determine if it is a fever or hyperthermia.

You do not have to call the vet directly in every case. If the temperature rise is only moderate and your horse seems lively, it is sufficient to observe your horse closely for the time being. If the increased temperature lasts longer than 2 days, it is time to seek veterinary advice.

In case of high fever you should call the vet as soon as possible. In any case, you should immediately start to give your horse the help he needs when he has a fever.

It is now necessary to bring your horse to a shady and cool place. Do not cover your horse’s back with a blanket o. a. – this could further increase the body temperature. An exception is the so-called Abschwitzdecke, if your quadruped sweats heavily.

Rest is paramount in case of fever or hypothermia. Put your horse in its stall and give its tired body a rest. Even after the fever has subsided, you should wait a few more days before resuming exertion, such as training.

Make sure that your quadruped takes enough liquid to itself. Fever stresses the body very much and through sweating your horse loses more and more fluid. This must be reintroduced. If your horse refuses to drink, you can enrich the drinking water with apple juice. To do this, mix 1 liter of apple juice with 9 liters of water.

In case of high fever, you can also use home remedies to lower the fever, such as cold leg wraps. For this you soak cloths with cold water and wrap them around the legs of your horse. It is best to fix them with elastic bandage and change them as soon as the cloths have warmed up.

Another possibility is to cool down your horse with the help of a water hose. Start at the hooves and slowly work your way up the horse’s body.

If the fever persists, call the veterinarian. He can examine your horse closely to determine what is causing the temperature increase. In case of an allergy you will get the right medication from the vet, for example antipyretics and the right medication against the underlying disease.

vetevo conclusion

Even though fever is a healthy mechanism of the body, it puts a lot of stress on your horse’s body (especially if it is prolonged). There are numerous causes for this phenomenon, ranging from infections to allergies to tumor diseases.

By raising the body temperature, pathogens that cause illness are killed and the immune system is brought up to speed. At the same time, this process costs your horse a lot of energy, which is why you should make sure he gets enough rest, fluids, and a cool and shady environment.

If the temperature is prolonged or very high, it’s time to call the vet to find out if your four-legged friend is suffering from a condition that needs medical attention.

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