Basic horse health disease prevention
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Basic Horse Health & Disease Prevention. Kristen M. Wilson Regional Extension Horse Specialist. “Maryland Cooperative Extension provides equal access programs”. Horse Health Management. Horses must be observed at regular intervals

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Basic horse health disease prevention

Basic Horse Health & Disease Prevention

Kristen M. Wilson

Regional Extension Horse Specialist

“Maryland Cooperative Extension provides equal access programs”

Horse health management

Horse Health Management

  • Horses must be observed at regular intervals

  • Know personality and normal stimuli responses from each individual animal

  • Establish normal values for your horse

  • Record keeping is key

(Horse Industry Handbook & Cherry Hill)

Daily observation

Daily Observation

Recognizing problems

Recognizing Problems

Learn to Recognize Abnormal Behavior

Vital signs

Vital Signs

Vital Signs

Measurements of a horse’s body function and are good indicators of the horse’s overall health

(Cherry Hill)

Vital signs1

Vital Signs

  • Common vital signs:

    • Temperature

    • Pulse

    • Respiration

    • Gut Sounds

    • Mucosal Color/Capillary Refill Time

    • Skin Pliability

(Horse Industry Handbook)

Vital signs temperature

Vital Signs: Temperature

  • Normal: 100°F or 38°C

  • Varies: 99.5 – 101.5°F

  • Exercise, excitement, hot weather, illness and pain will raise the temperature

  • Shock and very cold weather will decrease temperature

  • Mercury vs. Digital

(Horse Industry Handbook & Cherry Hill)



(Hill, 1997. Horse Health Care)

Vital signs pulse

Vital Signs: Pulse

  • Horse should be calm, rested and relaxed for most accurate results

  • To determine pulse – gently press fingers against an artery

  • Count the beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2

Normal Resting Pulse Rates

(In Beats Per Minute)

2 weeks oldup to 100

4 weeks old 70

Yearling45 – 60

2 Years40 – 50

Adult30 – 40

(Cherry Hill)

Heart rate

Heart Rate

(Hayes, 1997. Hands-On Horse Care)

Digital pulse

Digital Pulse

A good indicator of foot problems

(Hill, 1997. Horse Health Care)

Vital signs respiration

Vital Signs: Respiration

  • Normal respiration is 8 - 16 breaths per minute

  • To determine watch the nostrils or flanks

  • Nostrils flare and contract with each breath

  • The respiration rate should NOT exceed the heart rate

(Horse Industry Handbook)



(Hill, 1997. Horse Health Care)

Pulse respiration ratio

Pulse/Respiration Ratio

  • Normal Ratio – 4:2 or 2:1

  • A more significant measure of stress than each of the actual figures alone

  • Respiration exceeding pulse is an indicator of serious stress

  • Call vet immediately!!!

(Cherry Hill)

Vital signs gut sounds

Vital Signs: Gut Sounds

  • Gut sounds can help you diagnose a sick horse

  • Caused by the normal contracting and relaxing movements of the digestive tract during the digestion process

  • Place an ear on the flank area or use a stethoscope

  • Abnormal- Absence of gut sounds!

(Cherry Hill)

Gut sounds

Gut Sounds

(Rose and Hodgson, 2000. Manual of Equine Practice)

Vital signs mucosal color

Vital Signs: Mucosal Color

  • Indicator of blood circulation

  • Several mucous membranes can be checked: the inner lips and gums, inside the vulva and nostrils –should be moist and pink

  • Determine capillary refill time by pressing your thumb on the horse’s gum and then releasing it

  • It should take ~2 seconds for the blood and normal color to return to the area

(Horse Industry Handbook; Cherry Hill)

Capillary refill time

Capillary Refill Time

(Hayes, 1997. Hands-On Horse Care)

Mucous membranes sick horse

Mucous Membranes-Sick Horse

Vital signs skin pliability

Vital Signs: Skin Pliability

  • Test for dehydration

  • Pinch a fold of skin on your horse’s neck and release it - it should quickly flatten back in place

  • If the horse is dehydrated - the skin will flatten slowly or tend to stay in a fold

(Cherry Hill)

Skin pliability test

Skin Pliability Test

(Hill, 1997. Horse Health Care)

Other factors to consider

Other Factors to Consider

  • Bodily fluids (feces, urine, saliva & sweat)

  • Body condition and weight

  • Movement

  • Hair coat

  • Hoof condition

  • Feeding habits

  • Behaviors

(Horse Industry Handbook)

Body fluids

Body Fluids

Hair coat

Hair Coat

Normally shiny and generally healthy looking

Body condition weight

Body Condition & Weight

BCS - 1

BCS - 5

BCS - 9

Henneke body scoring system

Henneke Body Scoring System

Hoof condition

Hoof Condition

Hoof care

Hoof Care

Pick out hoofs daily

Pick Out Hoofs Daily

Feeding habits behavior

Feeding Habits & Behavior

  • Know what your horse’s normal behaviors are

  • Decreased interest in feed could indicate dental problems and/or health problems

  • Anything out of the ordinary could be an indication of a health problem

Disease prevention

Disease Prevention

  • Equine diseases reduce performance, cause economic and personal losses, lowers morale of workers and often affects farms reputations

  • Goals

    • Prevent or minimize exposure to infectious agents

    • Optimize resistance

How do diseases spread

How Do Diseases Spread?

  • Air

  • Living animals of the same species

  • Living animals of other species

  • Dead or sick animals

  • Feed

  • Water

  • Movement of contaminated personnel, equipment and vehicles

  • Movement of effluent between properties

Equine disease control program

Equine Disease Control Program

  • Optimize health and nutrition plans for animals

  • Use rodent, parasite and vector control programs throughout the year

  • Do not allow horse access to streams and waterways

  • Contract with a veterinarian and clearly post their contact information

Equine disease control program1

Equine Disease Control Program

  • Communication is key

  • Limit human access to barns if they are not clientele or workers

  • Clean and disinfect barns, stalls and equipment regularly

  • Discard all manure and bedding from stalls that house sick horses

Equine disease control program2

Equine Disease Control Program

  • Become familiar with common diseases that affect horses

  • Identify symptoms with the onset of a disease

  • Vaccination Plan

  • Deworming Plan

Common equine diseases

Common Equine Diseases

  • Equine Encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness)

  • Equine Infectious Anemia

  • Equine Viral Arteritis

  • Equine Rhinopneumonitis

  • Influenza

  • Potomac Horse Fever

  • Rabies

  • West Nile Virus

  • Strangles

  • Tetanus (lock jaw)

Identifying symptoms

Identifying Symptoms

Identifying symptoms1

Identifying Symptoms

Identifying symptoms2

Identifying Symptoms

Vaccination program

Vaccination Program

  • Vaccines –

    Inactivated, modified, or killed forms of bacteria and viruses that are administered to horses so that they acquire immunity to diseases

  • Usually given twice yearly

  • Booster shots required for unvaccinated animals

Sample vaccination schedule

Sample Vaccination Schedule

  • Fall

    • Tetanus, Influenza, Rhinopneumonitis, Rabies

  • Spring

    • EEE, WEE, Potomac Horse Fever, West Nile Virus, Influenza, Rhino, Coggins Test

  • No vaccine is 100% effective and good management strategies are needed

Parasite control management

Parasite Control & Management

  • Management plans should consider internal and external parasites

  • Consult your veterinarian when establishing a program

  • Types –

    • Rotational

    • Daily

Sample deworming schedule

Sample Deworming Schedule



  • Visual inspection of your horse on a daily basis can help prevent illness and/or injury

  • Important to know normal vital signs

  • Good management practices can improve your horse’s overall health and prevent diseases from spreading

Kristen m wilson kswilson@umd edu 301 596 9478

Kristen M. Wilson


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