What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Skin Feels Warm or Hot, Heat in a Local Area


You are assessing an area that seems mildly swollen or otherwise appears abnormal, and you notice heat in the skin of the area. What does this mean?

Heat develops when there is increased blood flow to an area. This happens for a variety of reasons but most commonly occurs due to injury, which results in inflammation. A vital part of inflammation is increased blood flow to an area. Expect heat to persist in an injured area throughout the period of healing. Keep in mind that clipped areas will be warmer.

Heat in an otherwise seemingly normal area of skin, and without other abnormal findings, is of questionable value.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you have other questions or concerns about the horse.
    • If you feel the problem is severe or has come on suddenly.
    • If you feel that increased heat may be associated with an injury or poor healing.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If you have other questions or concerns about the horse.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

To determine significance of the finding, first assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and search for other signs of injury like pain response to pressure, swelling of the area, or lameness. If you notice heat on the skin of a leg, always assess lameness at the walk. See the related records and learn those skills.

Always keep sun and ambient temperature in mind when trying to evaluate heat of the skin as these factors affect it. Keep in mind that clipped skin (surgical sites) will always feel warmer than adjacent haired areas.

It is good practice to learn to feel the temperature of your horse's skin and feet. I was taught that the back of the knuckles is the most sensitive part of the hand for assessing temperature differences. If you are having difficulty determining whether any area is hot, always compare it to the same location on the opposite side of the horse.

Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not over-interpet changes in skin temperature without finding other signs of a related problem.

your vet's role

Your vet will try to identify the underlying cause by taking a history and performing a physical exam. The temperature of skin in a particular area may have real importance to the exam. Based on their findings, they may then recommend additional diagnostics to determine the significance of the heat.

Infrared thermography uses an infrared camera to look at skin temperature, possibly as an indicator of injury. It has value but is not without confusing factors.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Is there any swelling in the area?
  • Do you notice any other signs in the affected area?
  • Is the function of the affected area normal or not?
  • Is there pain when pressure is applied to the area with your hands?
  • How does this compare to the same location on the other side of the horse?
  • Has the skin been clipped in the area where you feel heat?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP