Our horses are such an important part of our lives. We’ve sacrificed social outings for years to spend time with them. We know our horses better than a significant other, so when they aren’t acting like themselves our horse-alarms go off. Every horse owner should know the signs of a fever and what to do about it.
How can I tell if my horse has a fever?
Before getting into the signs of a fever, it is important to know the base range for a normal temperature in horses, which is 99.5 degrees to 101.5 degrees. Anything over 101.5 degrees is considered a fever. However, you should also check your horse's vitals when they are healthy and resting so you know what their normal is—just as our core temperature can differ slightly, so can your horses. This way you know for sure the temperature is abnormal.
If your horse isn’t quite acting themselves, they may be telling you they don’t feel well. A horse with a fever may distance themselves from their pasture mates and act lethargic or depressed. A fever can cause a horse to exhibit a poor appetite as well. Nasal discharge and cough can also be signs that a horse may have a fever.
What causes fevers in horses?
Both infection and inflammation can cause fevers in horses. Most importantly, infections caused by viruses or bacteria such as equine influenza, equine rhinitis, equine herpesvirus, and strangles are all commonly accompanied by fevers. Equine flu, rhinitis, and herpesviruses are all viruses that can show symptoms like green or yellow nasal discharge and cough. Strangles are seen with these symptoms as well and swollen submandibular lymph nodes that eventually abscess out. Another scary, fever causing pathogen is Equine infectious anemia which affects red blood cells.
What do I do if my horse shows signs of a fever?
The number one thing to do if you feel that your horse may have a fever is to take their temperature to know if they do indeed have a fever over 101.5 degrees. If so, try to isolate your horse by taking them into their stall preferably where they cannot be in physical contact with other horses, basically housing them in quarantine.
Be sure to call your veterinarian and be prepared to answer specific questions such as if your horse has traveled lately, has been in contact with another horse that has traveled, and is current on vaccines. Your veterinarian will do a thorough exam of your horse and palpate all lymph nodes to check for swelling, may want to run some bloodwork to check red and white blood cell counts, as well as a nasal swab if your horse has nasal discharge. Based on findings, they may prescribe your horse medication and it is best to keep them in quarantine until your veterinarian can see them.
Bottom line, you know your horse best. If something isn’t right and your horse doesn’t seem well, check their temperature and call your veterinarian. If your horse does have a fever and shows signs of an upper respiratory infection, play it safe and keep them isolated until a diagnosis is reached and make sure vaccines stay current.