Running Hot: What An Elevated Equine Temperature Can Mean

by | 02.11.2019 | 8:00am

A horse's “normal” temperature should be between 99 and 101 degrees F, but there are instances where his body temperature will rise without him being ill. He may “run hotter” on warm days or after exercise, whether hew as running around in his field or asked to work by a handler.

Additionally, horse's temperature will be higher in the evening than in the morning and mares in various stages of estrus may have temperatures higher than their normal. However, if a horse's rectal temperature is elevated for no obvious cause, it's due to a fever, which is one of the first signs of illness.

A fever indicates that the horse's body is trying to combat pathogens, but how the fever does this isn't completely understood. If a horse's temperature is elevated only slightly—two or three degrees higher than normal, for just a few days–he's most likely fighting off a minor infection. If he was recently vaccinated, the fever could also be the result of his body building his immunity. For a mild fever that lasts only a few days, it's best to simply let it runs its course. However, if the horse is miserable and not eating or drinking, medication can be administered to make him more comfortable.

NSAIDs like Banamine (flunixin) and phenylbutazone are often given to bring down a fever to make the horse feel well enough to eat and drink again. The longer a horse goes without eating or drinking, the more likely he is to have a secondary problem. Fevers may also be brought down by cold hosing, standing the horse in front of fans or administering cooled fluids via IV.

A high fever is one that is elevated by three degrees or more. A horse with a high fever may also breathe hard, have a rapid pulse, and be sweating or shivering. It's always best to call a veterinarian when a horse has a high fever.

A horse with a fever of 105 or higher may have strangles, Potomac Horse Fever, equine influenza or another infections; viral infections tend to produce higher fevers that bacterial infections. Endotoxemia may be another cause of fever. Typically a horse with a high fever will show other signs of illness that point to a specific cause.

Read more at EQUUS.

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