A question of degrees: Have the textbooks been astray on equine body temperature?

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Temperature ranges used as an important measure of equine wellness may be too high to represent healthy horses, British research suggests.

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University and the Royal Agricultural University investigated the use of body temperature in assessing equine health, and argue that current tradition-based guidelines may be inaccurate and require further investigation.

Rectal temperature is a vital determining factor in the monitoring of horse health and allows early detection of infections and assessment of disorders such as colic.

While books and other sources have stated “normal ranges” of temperatures for many years, there has been no recent published work examining whether these suggested normal values are representative of healthy horses.

As part of the study, Nottingham Trent University researchers Emily Hall, Dr Anne Carter and Dr Carol Hall, working with Dr Anne Stevenson from the Royal Agricultural University, investigated the normal body temperature of horses in the Nottingham Trent University yard.

The findings showed that the upper limit of the published ranges (38.5°C) is typically 0.5°C higher than the results from clinically normal horses in this study.

The researchers found the normal temperature range for horses in this yard was 36.0-38.0°C.

The research, which included more than 600 measurements taken from 41 healthy adult horses, was led by the University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences and is published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science.

“Due to factors such as antibiotic resistance, climate change, and ever-increasing movement of horses, it is increasingly important that early signs of ill-health or disease are picked up as early as possible,” says Hall, a veterinary surgeon who was lead researcher on the study.

“By establishing a reference range specific to the yard at Nottingham Trent University, we can now be more confident in identifying horses that are too hot, or too cold, and take appropriate action.”

The study found that the overall equine temperature reference ranges cited in textbooks may need reviewing and updating.

The aim is now to repeat the study on several other equine yards around Britain to review the overall normal range for horses across the country.

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