Indicators of Good Horse Health

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Signs of General Good Horse Health

Horses vary on an individual basis, however there are signs of general good health that apply to all of them. With careful management and monitoring, you can spot variations in horse health, and know if and when a veterinarian should be called.

The following list provides a good basic daily checklist of general guidelines for monitoring the health of a horse:

  • Attitude. A healthy horse is bright and interested in its surroundings; any change in the horse’s individual behaviour could indicate sickness.
  • Coat Condition is sleek and shiny; in winter it is dense and standout; a glossy or dense coat is indicative of good nutrition and health.
  • Eyes are bright, fully open and clean. Any indication of unusual discharge or a glazed, dull appearance should be investigated.
  • Nostrils are dry and clean. Excessive mucus could suggest the horse has respiratory problems.
  • Appetite. A healthy horse has a good appetite and any decrease can be one of the first indicators of illness. In some cases, appetite may be affected in horses with teeth problems – watch for the horse dropping significant amounts of food as it chews, especially grain.
  • Hydration. Horses should consume 5L of water per every 100kg of body weight per day. Normal water consumption indicates the horse is hydrated and the kidneys are functioning normally. Weather conditions and exercise can affect consumption.
  • Mucous Membranes. The membranes of the gums and lips are a healthy salmon pink colour. Pale gums may indicate illness.
  • Manure is firm, in balls and not excessively loose. Any significant change from the normal amount should be investigated.
  • Urine is wheat-coloured and may be cloudy, but does not contain blood.
  • Limbs/Feet. The horse is capable of standing squarely with its weight evenly on all four feet. Resting a hind leg is normal, but not a foreleg. There is no excessive heat or signs of swelling.
  • Intestinal Function. When listening to the horse’s abdomen (via a stethoscope), you should be able to hear intestinal sounds. Decreased sounds may indicate sickness or stress.

As well as these indicators of good health, it is imperative that owners know their horse’s individual vital signs. This is known as monitoring the TPR (i.e. Temperature, Pulse, Respiration):

  • Temperature. The normal body temperature is between 37°C and 38.5°C and should be measured rectally.
  • Pulse. A horse’s resting pulse rate should be between 28-44 beats per minute. This is best taken using the facial artery under the lower jaw or with a stethoscope just in front of the girth area behind the elbow.
  • Respiration. When at rest, the average horse takes 10-14 breaths per minute and these can be counted by watching the flanks rise and fall.
12 Signs of Good Equine Health ( 
Equine Code of Practice (NFACC)

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Activity 3.2 – Animal Observation

Simple observation – on a regular basis – is an important aspect of animal care. An animal’s physical appearance and behaviour should be monitored so that changes in appearance or behaviour can be identified. Sometimes, these changes can indicate illness or disease.

What Do These Images Suggest? Answer the questions about the images in your Module 3 Booklet. (Note: full sized versions of the images in the document are also available by clicking here (image one) and here (image two).)

You can use the weblinks provided below to help you complete either option of this activity.

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Weblinks for Activities 3.2 >3.4

Use the links below to help you complete the activities.

National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC)’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Equines.

Find detailed information in the Health & Disease section of Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development Horses’ webpage.

Fact sheets on different animal diseases are available by clicking on the Reportable and Notifiable Diseases links on this Canadian Food Inspection Agency webpage.

More information on laminitis and founder is provided by the Alberta SPCA.

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