Daily, regular & annual equine health checks – a quick guide

February 6, 2022

It is a good idea for horses to have an annual health check in addition to their daily checks and regular management/maintenance regime. Daily and regular checks ensure good basic welfare, whilst an annual check is effectively an MOT to assess all aspects of your horse’s health.

Daily healthcare checks for horses

A daily equine health check should include the following:

  • Skin and coat
  • Teeth and eating
  • Eyes, ears, nose
  • Legs
  • Urine and faecal output
  • Appetite and water intake
  • Normal behaviour

For each of these elements you should understand and recognise what is normal for your horse.  This means that should you notice anything out of the ordinary,  you will be able to recognise this early on and take appropriate preventative measures.

Health indicators for horses that you should check regularly

As with humans it can be useful to understand the basic health indicators for your horse.  These include their heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature.  Check these regularly or as soon as the daily checks indicate a change.

What is the normal range of a horse’s heart rate?

The normal heart rate range for horses at rest falls between 28-48 beats per minute. At exercise it can be up to 200 beats per minute. Heart rate is measured using a stethoscope or by feeling the pulse under the jaw. An increased heart rate can be indicative of pain or stress. If you suspect your horse has an increased heart rate then veterinary advice should be sought.

What is the normal range of a horse’s breathing (respiratory) rate?

At rest a horse’s normal respiratory rate should be between 8-14 breaths minute. Breathing can be measured with a stethoscope or more usually by watching the sideways expansion of the chest. A sick or stressed horse may show an increased respiratory rate or increased respiratory effort, and veterinary advice should be sought.

What is a horse’s normal body temperature?

A normal temperature for a horse is between 37.5 – 38.5°C. Temperature can be measured by inserting the thermometer into the anus of the horse and holding against the side of the rectal wall. An abnormally increased temperature may be cause for concern and veterinary advice should be sought. 

Other regular equine healthcare & maintenance

The teeth of domesticated horses do not wear in the same way they would in the wild, so dental care must not be overlooked. Regular dental check-ups ensure that the teeth do not develop sharp enamel points, which can cause ulceration to the oral mucosa. Dental checks also allow for a thorough evaluation of the dental arcades, ruling out any loose or fractured teeth, diastema or other dental issues.

Last but not least, regular farriery care should be incorporated into the routine management of your horse. This should include regular trimming even if unshod and turned away/not in work.

The annual equine health check

In addition to your daily checks and regular monitoring of the basic health indicators for your horse, an annual health check is a good idea.  This can be carried out by your vet at the time of annual flu and tetanus vaccination.

At the annual check your vet will ask you about things you have seen during your daily and regular checks.  Your vet will then go on to check the heart rate, gut sounds and lung fields by auscultation with a stethoscope.

The annual check can also be an opportunity to blood sample your horse to check routine bloodwork including haematology and biochemistry. These laboratory tests are useful in providing an overall clinical picture, particularly in geriatric horses or those with any underlying disease processes such as mild liver disease. These tests cannot replace specific tests such as those carried out for monitoring for Cushing’s disease.

Finally, the annual check is the ideal opportunity for your worming protocol to be discussed with your vet.

Get advice and book an annual equine health check

If you would like more details and further advice regarding daily, regular or annual health checks for your horse, then you can discuss these with one of our equine vets when they next visit your horse or yard.  Alternatively, please contact our equine vets at the practice.

Mel Lean Dr MedVet BSc Hons MSc MRCVS

2018 Graduate

University of Budapest, Szent Istvan

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