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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)

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 old up to 100

4 weeks old 70

Yearling 45 – 60

2 Years 40 – 50

Adult 30 – 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)

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)

hair coat
Hair Coat

Normally shiny and generally healthy looking

body condition weight
Body Condition & Weight

BCS - 1

BCS - 5

BCS - 9

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)
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
  • 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