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


Rectal Temperature Lower than 97 Degrees F (in Adult)


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.

  • 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.

your role


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 Not To Do

If horse is normal otherwise, do not immediately assume this is the correct temperature.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • Is the horse trembling?
  • What is the ambient temperature?
  • What is the horse's rectal temperature?
  • Did you recheck the temperature value?
  • Does the horse's appetite and attitude seem normal?
  • Is the horse wet?
  • Has the horse been lying down?
  • Is the horse currently up or down?
  • Do the horses have access to shelter from wind and wet?
  • Was the horse recently anesthetized?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • What caused you to take the temperature in the first place?
  • Have you given the horse any medication recently?
  • What medication did you give, how much, and by what route?

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