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What Is A Bad Temperature For A Horse?

Horse owners are a different breed of people. They are capable, and nothing is too much when it comes to caring for their horse. Horse owners quickly learn that caring for a horse requires knowledge of equine first aid, which involves assessing the horse’s temperature and knowing when there is a problem.

A horse’s temperature ranges between 99° – 101° F (37.5° – 38.5° C). Anything above or below this can be cause for concern. Foals have slightly higher temperatures, 100° – 102° F (37.7 – 38.8° C).  Environmental temperatures can result in a bigger variation around the normal range.

It is essential to know what a normal equine temperature is so that you can intervene as fast as possible if your horse is sick. For all their size, horses are fragile creatures that die easily. 

Why Is It Important To Know About A Horse’s Temperature?

Horses cannot quickly be thrown in a car like a dog and raced off to the veterinary hospital. Transporting horses requires organization and planning, so generally, the veterinarian comes to the horse.

Horse veterinarians are mostly frantically busy people and cannot always see your horse immediately. The result is that the horse owner must know how to assess a sick horse, including how to take a temperature and what the temperature should be.

If you can report your horse’s temperature to the veterinarian, they can assess whether it is critical that your horse is seen quickly or whether it can wait a few hours.

How Do I Measure My Horse’s Temperature?

The easiest way of taking a horse’s temperature involves a digital thermometer. The digital thermometer can be bought at any pharmacy and some animal feed or pet stores and does not need to be a special thermometer for animals. You can use any digital thermometer intended for humans.

Do not buy a scanning thermometer as these are inaccurate on humans and cannot be used on horses because of their hair. The old mercury bulb thermometers should not be used either as there is a risk of mercury poisoning.

  1. Restrain the horse by having someone hold the horse by their halter or headcollar.

You can also cross-tie the horse or put the horse in a crush if your horse is inclined to kick.

  • Place a little Vaseline (petroleum jelly) on the bulb end of the thermometer to lubricate it.
  • Activate the thermometer power switch and wait for the digital screen to show. It usually indicates either an L for low or a 00 on the screen.
  • Gently insert the thermometer into the horse’s anus so that three-quarters of the thermometer is in the rectum. Do not push sharply or force it in as there is a risk of tearing the membranes if you do this.
  • Do not let go of the end of the thermometer. Many horse owners and horses have had the uncomfortable experience of losing a thermometer up the horse’s rectum!
  • Wait for the thermometer to start beeping and remove the thermometer from the anus. Read the digital display.

What Is A Normal Temperature For A Horse?

The accepted normal range of temperatures in horses is 99° – 101° F (37.5° – 38.5° C). Environmental temperature can influence the horse’s temperature. Do not panic if your horse’s temperature is half to one degree higher if you are in the middle of a steaming summer day. The temperature can also drop half to one degree if the weather is icy.

What Is A Normal Temperature For A Foal?

Foals generally have temperatures that are higher than adults. Their range of temperatures is 100° – 102° F (37.7 – 38.8° C). Foals have higher temperatures because their metabolic rate is faster than an adult’s horse. An increased metabolic rate results in a higher temperature.

Young foals will have higher temperatures, but this will decrease as the foal grows until about five or six months, when the temperature should be within the normal adult range.

Do Different Horse Breeds Have Different Temperatures? 

Although the terms hot-blooded, cold-blooded, and warmblood are used to refer to different horse breed types, this has no bearing on the horse’s body temperature. All horse breeds have temperatures within the same range.

Should I Take My Horse’s Temperature Every Day?

Taking a horse’s temperature daily has several benefits.

  1. The horse becomes used to having its temperature taken and does not cause trouble if you have to take it when it is sick.
  • Horses have individual variations within the range of normal temperatures. For example, one horse might routinely “run cold” and have a temperature on the low side of normal. These are often smaller, thin-haired horses or ponies. Other horses may have daily temperatures on the high end of normal.
  • Morning and evening temperatures differ. Usually, morning temperatures are lower than evening temperatures. Taking a twice-daily temperature over several months allows you to determine your horse’s individual range.
  • If you know your horse’s temperature range, then you can quickly identify if that particular horse has a higher or lower than normal temperature.
  • It is highly recommended that you measure your horse’s temperature twice a day in regions where viruses such as West Nile Virus, Equine Encephalitis virus, African Horse Sickness, or any other virus is endemic. The sooner these viruses are detected and treatment begins, the better chance the horse has of surviving.

What Causes A Horse To Have A High Temperature?

There are a variety of reasons that a horse may have a high temperature. You will need to consider other symptoms and environmental factors to decide on the probable cause. A veterinarian will be the best person to consult if you are uncertain and worried.

Do Viruses Cause A high Temperature In Horses?

Viruses are one of the most typical causes of high temperatures in horses. The virus attacks the horse’s tissues and cells. The horse’s immune system reacts and raises the temperature in an attempt to kill the virus.

If you have owned horses for a while, you will understand that just as we have viruses that make us sick, so too do horses. Many veterinarians will tell you that there are certain seasons in the year when there seem to be viruses that crop up in horses. Some of them end up being unidentified.

There is an array of frightening viruses which are dangerous and often fatal for horses:

  1. West Nile Virus
  2. Eastern Equine Encephalitis
  3. African Horse Sickness

It is worthwhile vaccinating your horse against these viruses if the vaccine is available in your country.

Can A Bacterial Infection Cause A High Temperature In A Horse?

Bacterial infections can be localized (for example, an abscess) or systemic when they affect the whole body. Examples of systemic infections are endotoxemia, septicemia, or cellulitis. All of these conditions are life-threatening and must be treated immediately by a veterinarian.

Localized infections may not cause an increase in body temperature, but the area around the infection may feel hot to the touch. Systemic infections cause an elevated body temperature.

Do Tick-Borne Diseases Cause High Temperatures In Horses? 

There are three major tick-borne diseases in the United States. All three include fevers (high temperature) in their symptomology.

  1. Lyme’s disease
  2. Equine piroplasmosis
  3. Anaplasmosis, which used to be known as equine ehrlichiosis

Can A Severe Wound Cause A High Temperature In A Horse?

A severe wound or burn causes inflammation in the body. During the inflammatory process, chemicals known as pyrogens are released, which travel to the brain. In the brain, a chemical mechanism is triggered, which increases the body temperature.

Generally, inflammation from wounds produces a low-grade temperature – the horse’s temperature is slightly above the normal temperature range.

How Do You Manage A Horse With A High Temperature?

There is quite a lot of controversy about when a horse should be treated for a high temperature. Many scientists feel that an elevated temperature is necessary for the immune system to defeat viral and bacterial infections.

They recommend leaving a mild to moderate temperature untreated so that the elevated temperature kills the virus or bacteria. Extremists say that you should not treat temperatures at all, but this has approach can cause more problems.

Certain organs in the horse body, including the brain, cannot function optimally if the body temperature is too high. This results in seizures which can kill the horse. The best approach is to speak with your veterinarian and follow that advice.

Anti-inflammatories such as phenylbutazone and flunixin meglumine (Banamine, Finadyne) help decrease the horse’s body temperature and relieve pain.

If you are dealing with a horse with a very high temperature in the middle of the night (as often happens) and the veterinarian is unavailable, you can try some mechanical means to cool the horse down.

  1. Hose the horse down liberally every 20 – 30 minutes. Use cool but not use ice-cold water.
  2. If you have ice boots, you can freeze these and wrap them around the horse’s legs.
  3. Lay a wet towel or sheet over the horse in between hosing.
  4. Place the horse’s feet in buckets of cold water.

How Does A Hot Environment Affect A Horse’s Temperature?

Scorching weather can cause a horse’s temperature to be at the high end of the normal range. If the horse’s temperature becomes more elevated, the horse may be experiencing heat stress.

Heat stress occurs when the environment is so hot that the horse is unable to cool down. This can be followed by heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be fatal.

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  1. Excessive sweating or minimal sweating
  2. Rapid breathing
  3. Muscle weakness and possibly tremors
  4. Dehydration
  5. Stumbling
  6. Increased pulse and heart rate
  7. Elevated temperature

This can be followed by heat exhaustion and heatstroke, where the body temperature becomes excessively high. If the horse has heatstroke, there is usually no or minimal sweating. Seizures and collapse will result if the horse is not cooled down.

Exercise in hot weather must be closely monitored and regulated. A heat index is a formula that allows you to assess whether riding your horse is safe in the current weather conditions. It combines the ambient temperature with the humidity.

If the heat index is higher than 150, you should not ride your horse at all in the current weather conditions. A heat index of 120 -150 indicates that you can ride but must monitor your horse closely.

How Do I Cool Down An Over-Heated Horse?

Sponge or hose down your horse with water. The water should be cool but not icy. As you continue the process, you can make the water colder the longer you apply it to the horse. Try to encourage the horse to drink cool, not icy, water. Call a veterinarian if the horse is dehydrated and will not drink.

How Does Cold Weather Affect My Horse’s Temperature?

Horses are more adept at dealing with the cold than with heat. They are most comfortable at temperatures that range from 18° – 59° F (-8° – 15° C). This applies to windless dry conditions.

Wind chill factors and wet freezing conditions cause horses to become cold very quickly, and they can develop hypothermia. Their body temperature will drop below the normal temperature range and continue decreasing the longer they are exposed to the cold.

An interesting fact is that horses that wear shoes have colder feet in icy climates. This makes sense if you consider how cold metal gets in frigid temperatures. This makes shod horses more prone to frostbite damage in their feet and legs.

Horses that live in cold climates must have access to a shelter to dry off and have a comfortable dry area out of the wind. Older horses and foals are particularly susceptible to heat loss and will quickly succumb to hypothermia.

To warm a horse that has hypothermia, you need to use the same principles as you would for a human with hypothermia.

  1. Move the horse to a warm, dry environment out of the wind.
  2. Towel the horse dry or use a hairdryer on a low to medium setting.
  3. Use heating gel pads, wheat bags, or any similar device and blanket the horse. ( Do not use an electric blanket as this is dangerous.) shock blankets are helpful in this instance.
  4. Offer the horse a warm bran mash with some alfalfa chaff and oats. High-fiber meals generate a lot of warmth as they are digested.
  5. A veterinarian can tube the horse and give the horse warm fluids directly into the stomach in urgent cases.
  6. Stabling the horse with another horse or two will help to generate more heat.


Horses have a range of average temperatures. If the horse’s temperature is above or below this, the horse is ill or has been overexposed to the elements. Monitoring your horse’s temperature gives you a valuable reference point to assess if your horse’s temperature is too high too low.


Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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