How To Tell if a Horse is Sick

Any horse owner, whether a would-be owner or just starting for a few months, must know about the health of the horse, especially when buying or taking care of one. A horse will have several signs of sickness, which must be recognized by the owner, and this guide will help you see if your horse is sick. If any illnesses are left untreated, it will lead to serious complications, often costly for you and the horse.

Horses also do have body language, which may necessitate the use of a reference guide (and these are available for sale) to read what they are expressing to you, especially when ill.

  • Appearance. A healthy horse must be standing on all fours, never allow a forefoot to rest, or rests the hind feet if idling or is relaxed. It will have a shiny coat that’s soft and lays smooth and flat. There is an initial indication of illness if the horse does not stand well, as he lies down in unusual positions, especially if he lies down on the back, or sits like a dog; and has a dull coat that does not lay flat. A sick horse either moves slow, feels dull and sad.
  • A closer examination. The eyes must be full, with the inside salmon pink, along with the nostrils and gums in the same hue, and which are indications that the horse is in good health. When he breathes, it should be quiet; heavy or slow or loud breathing means bad health. Legs must not be swelling, and if you feel the legs, they should not be too warm; if they do, lymph nodes may be at work trying to combat the infection from within, as typical horse fever is anywhere from 102 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit (provided that you use a horse thermometer for a rectal temperature take). The skin must also be moist, but not too sweaty to the touch; dry, tight skin or sweating is an indicator of illness. If checking the heart rate, depending on the age and type of horse, it must be steady between 33 to 40 beats per minute, as you feel the artery on the jaw.
  • Mucous membranes. Mucous membranes must not be swelling, or they will be colored differently if ill. Nostrils of a sick horse will be flattened or long, with perhaps some thick yellow and green mucous coming out.
  • Appetite. When watching the horse eat, he must have a good appetite while being fed; an ill horse will not eat well and ignores the food being offered. There should also be some gut sounds. If the horse produces droppings or urinates, the urine must be light yellow and the droppings are of normal color and consistency; unusual colors indicates sickness, along with difficulty in urinating.

If the horse is ill, and you could not determine exactly the cause, it is always necessary to call in the veterinarian to check the horse and he or she will make any recommendations for further action to resolve the problem.


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