Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Rectal Temperature Lower than 97 Degrees F (in Adult)

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the horse seems not quite right, or eating less than normal in addition to this sign.
  • If the horse has no appetite and is obviously depressed.

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

A low core body temperature is uncommon in adult horses but can result from shock, lying down in cold, wet and windy conditions, and is common after prolonged general anesthesia. It is a more common and important problem in foals because of their smaller size. I have commonly seen very low rectal temperatures in old, debilitated horses that were down for prolonged periods in cold weather.

A low temperature reading is also commonly an error in the use of or reading of the thermometer. If the horse seems normal otherwise, a low body temperature may simply be a false reading – user error.

If you record a low body temperature, recheck the thermometer reading. Is the thermometer working properly? Did you insert the thermometer deeply enough? Is the the tip of the thermometer against a fecal ball (this may artificially lower the reading)? Are you reading the thermometer correctly? Are you allowing it ample time to complete the reading? Double check the reading before calling your vet.

WHAT TO DO

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). If the horse is showing any other sign of problems or abnormalities along with hypothermia, your vet should evaluate the horse immediately. If the horse is down, visibly trembling or is wet, get it up, provide adequate shelter and heat if possible. Dry and blanket the horse.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

In many cases, your vet will explain to you that you may need to recheck the temperature. They may give you some suggestions for getting a more accurate result. If the horse is truly hypothermic, there will likely be other problems, and the vet will probably want to evaluate the horse. The actions they take will be determined by the situation. Along with other treatments, they may begin to warm the horse.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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