How to Know If Your Horse Is Sick: 12 Steps

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How to Know If Your Horse Is Sick: 12 Steps
How to Know If Your Horse Is Sick: 12 Steps

Many beginning riders and even certain professionals need help identifying if the horse is sick or injured. Knowing the physical and behavioral symptoms the problem causes will help you determine if your pet needs veterinary attention. However, please note that when concerns about the horse's welfare arise, it is critical to contact the veterinarian immediately.


Part 1 of 2: Assessing Physical Symptoms

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 1

Step 1. Make a basic diagnosis of the horse

Measure the animal's temperature and heart and respiratory rate.

  • Heart Rate: Horses typically have 25 to 42 heartbeats per minute. To check the frequency, place the palm of your hand on the animal's chest, just below the left elbow, feeling the heartbeat. Count the number of beats per minute to determine your heart rate. This measurement can also be used routinely to calculate the heart rate of the animal at rest, as knowing the normal value will facilitate the identification of abnormalities. Having your heart racing even at rest (greater than the 42 beats per minute limit) can indicate an infection or heart disease; if you detect that this is happening to your horse, call a veterinarian.
  • Respiratory Rate: The normal respiratory rate in horses is 10 to 24 breaths per minute. To analyze it, just observe the movement of the chest; as soon as it rises and falls, a breath must be counted. Check how many times this happens in a minute; preferably when the animal is resting, analyzing the normal respiratory rhythm. If he has just finished exercising, wait at least half an hour to measure him. Fast breathing rates even at rest can indicate various types of problems, such as infections, allergies, fluid in the lungs, heart disorders and even cancer. All require veterinary care.
  • Temperature: horses have normal temperatures of 37, 2 to 38, 3 °C; any value above that is considered too high. Monitor the animal's temperature if it reaches 38, 3 °C. If it is between 38, 3 and 38, 8 °C, measure it every few hours until the fever passes; if it exceeds 38, 8 °C, call a veterinarian. There is most likely an infection or severe inflammation.
Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 2

Step 2. Examine the horse's eyes, nose and mouth

Look for unusual, viscous discharge such as yellow or green pus; it can signal that the horse is sick. When you notice that there is blood, call the veterinarian immediately.

During eye analysis, see if they look dull, or if the area looks “sunken”. Such symptoms may indicate the presence of Horner's Syndrome, a disease that attacks the nervous system and is common in many animals. Also check to see if the eyelids appear drooping or if the horse's third eyelid (usually at the corner of each eye) is protruding and upward, moving over the eye. These symptoms also indicate that there is infection or other manifestations of Horner's Syndrome; in addition, if the eyes do not open fully, the veterinarian should be called

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 3

Step 3. Examine the horse's skin and coat

Dull coats signal that the animal has a problem, malnourished or is not "bathing" properly. If this is the only symptom, there is no emergency, but it is a good idea to mention this to the vet the next time he is seen. However, if it's one of several symptoms, call your professional.

Also test the elasticity of the horse's skin to know it is dehydrated. Carefully lift the skin covering the animal's shoulders; when released, it should immediately snap back into place. If that doesn't happen and she's late getting back, the horse is dehydrated; it's something that can happen if he doesn't drink enough or is losing more fluid than he's ingesting. Another technique to check for dehydration is by examining the mouth and feeling the membranes that line the gums and lips, which should look wet and slippery. If they are dry and sticky, the horse is fluid deficient. Make sure he has easy access to water and call a veterinarian

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 4

Step 4. Check that the horse's intestines are working

Constipation or diarrhea are signs that something is wrong with the animal; you may even notice that he is trying hard to eliminate stool, with nothing coming out (constipation), or excreting it in a more liquid way than usual (diarrhea). In either case, consult a veterinarian.

When you notice blood in the stool, the animal should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 5

Step 5. Check the horse's urine

When concentrated, it has a dark appearance, just as when there is blood or elements released from the blood. Consult a veterinarian if urine continues to come out dark for a long time.

  • If you suspect that dehydration is causing the urine to be too concentrated and dark, take a skin elasticity test to determine if the horse is really weak.
  • When possible, collect a urine sample for the veterinarian to review.
Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 6

Step 6. Analyze the color of the horse's gums

They are usually pink or lightly pigmented in color, just like those of humans. When you lift the horse's lip and notice that they are pale, very dark, with a muddy appearance or even bright red, call the vet as soon as possible.

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 7

Step 7. See if the horse is sweating more than normal

Horses should not perspire so much at rest unless it is extremely hot. This could indicate that there is fever, pain, or that he is afraid.

Be aware that horses lose electrolytes such as sodium and chloride when they sweat. This means that they dehydrate when they sweat to excess, making a veterinarian's appointment essential, especially if the animal also refuses food and water

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 8

Step 8. Assess whether the horse's posture is awkward

If he appears to be standing but is not comfortable and comfortable, he may be in pain somewhere in his body.

  • For example, is he bent over backwards, with his hind legs under his belly and his front legs stretched forward? This posture indicates that the horse wants to take the weight off the front legs because it is in pain; this is also a symptom of laminitis.
  • Also, if the horse stretches when standing (with its front legs stretched forward and its hind legs far back), it may be trying to reduce intestinal discomfort or cramping. The best thing to do is call a veterinarian to guide you.
Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 9

Step 9. Observe how the horse moves

Consider whether he is trotting with unnatural strides or tensely; if you confirm this, the horse may be in pain due to inflammation of muscles or joints, something that should be monitored closely for a while. Sometimes stiffness can come after strenuous exercise, and a light walk will get him back to walking normally again.

However, if after walking for a while, he becomes even more tense and hesitant to walk, call a veterinarian

Part 2 of 2: Assessing Behavioral Symptoms

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 10

Step 1. Try to remember if the horse has ever exhibited lethargy and different behaviors

A delay in responding or behaving differently than usual, such as not “greeting” him with a whinny when you see him or knocking on the stable door to order food, can indicate these problems.

Strange behavior is often accompanied by changes in the horse's body language. For example, he may have his head down and his ears not responding to the sounds around him

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 11

Step 2. Determine if the horse is showing signs of restlessness

Is he walking more than normal or does he have difficulty calming down? Restless horses that do not rest the way they are used to should be closely monitored. Call a veterinarian if the animal starts tossing down, lying down and getting up repeatedly, or kicking itself in the belly. These are signs of colic that cannot be ignored.

Know if Your Horse Is Sick Step 12

Step 3. Assess whether the horse is eating normally

Horses graze, that is, they eat little but often. Research shows that going without food for six hours makes the stomachs of these animals more susceptible to stomach ulcers, further underscoring the importance of proper nutrition for horses. When you notice that he refuses food and water or that he is eating at different times than usual, call a veterinarian.

  • Keep an eye on the horse and check that he drops a lot of food as he eats. Horses' diet is high in fiber, requiring them to chew and grind their food before swallowing. The molar teeth, which are at the back of the animal's mouth, are equivalent to grinding wheels for horses; when they experience a toothache or when they wear unevenly, leading to the formation of a sharp part that is cutting the cheek or tongue, the horse will let the food escape when eating. Sometimes the food will be partially chewed and rolled into small balls that fall from the mouth. Making this mess while eating are symptoms of discomfort in the teeth, requiring treatment by a veterinarian.
  • The same thing goes for horses that chew but cannot swallow. They will look like they are hungry, chewing their food and bowing their heads; at that moment, the food falls out of the mouth. This can be caused by a sore throat, such as an ulcer, a thorn or foreign body getting between the teeth, or it can occur when food lodges in the esophagus (suffocation). It can also be caused by infections such as botulism.


  • Always have your vet's phone number handy (or memorized in your cell phone book).
  • You must know what the animal's normal behavior is like; if anything changes or causes concern, contact your veterinarian for advice.
  • Always take good care of the horse. He could die from an illness.

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