Track Your Horse's Temperature Using an Embedded Thermometer

Your horse is slightly “off.” He’s not as hungry as normal, not as bright and alert, not his usual self. You know what to do:

  1. Look through your first aid kit. Wait, where did you put it last? Right. Under that stack of saddle pads.
  2. Find the thermometer. Shoot, it’s supposed to be in the kit. I didn’t leave it out, did I? Ah, there it is, on the windowsill under dust and cobwebs.
  3. Rinse and wipe off the thermometer, then check to make sure it works.
  4. Find a friend to hold your horse for you. Wait till she’s done brushing/feeding/picking hooves on her own horse.
  5. Lift tail … gross. Insert thermometer. Hit poop. Gross again. Pull out thermometer just as horse starts to poop on your boots. Reinsert thermometer. Wait for the beep, keeping eye on those hind legs just in case.
  6. Read temperature. Purse lips and wonder if “just a little out of normal range” is bad or normal for him. Doubt, check online, worry.
  7. Repeat every few hours to look for changes and trends.

That’s one way to do it. Otherwise, there’s this option: Hear your cellphone buzz during breakfast. Read alert: Horse’s temp is slightly elevated this morning compared to normal. Review horse’s recent temperature history on the app. Keep your phone handy during the day for updates and in case you need to call the vet.

Sound futuristic? It’s not. Identity microchips can be coupled with embedded thermometers that not only read a horse’s temperature but also send data and alerts to owners and veterinarians via a cellphone application.

“Rectal temperature-taking in horses is time-consuming and, to be frank, a dirty job, and it also leaves room for doubt about what’s normal for individual horses, since we usually only take their temperatures when we suspect a problem,” said Claire Scicluna, DVM, of the Equ’Institut at the Haras du Plessis, in Chamant, France. “But with modern technology, it just makes sense to take advantage of technological progress in order to have an e-monitoring system that’s quick, easy, reliable, and more comfortable for both horse and human.”

Scicluna, a practicing equine veterinarian, and her fellow researchers developed an app to work with a Biothermo microchip that reads not only the horse’s identification number but also his body temperature at any given moment. A veterinarians injects the implant into the neck crest muscle like any other microchip—a site that, conveniently, appears to be well-suited for body temperature monitoring.

“A 2014 study showed that infrared readings of skin temperature in horses best correlated with body temperature when the reading was taken either on the horse’s forehead or on the neck at the site where microchips are usually placed,” Scicluna said.

Her prototype implant inserts directly into the muscle itself and reads body temperature, not superficial skin temperature.

The research team followed five horses implanted with the chip over a full year, registering more than 1,500 temperature readings. They found that the readings and their evolutions corresponded very well with concurrent rectal temperature readings using a digital thermometer, she said. In fact, their results suggested that the implant readings were probably more accurate, with fewer fluctuations due to issues such as feces in the rectum or low thermometer sensitivity.

While the research team’s current implant requires scanning the microchip with a handheld reader for each temperature reading, then sending data to the phone application, they are working on a connected system that would transmit the data automatically to the app, Scicluna said.

“This system is fast, easy, and reliable and gives a useful opportunity to monitor horses’ temperature, with regard to managing illness, monitoring exercise tolerance, and more,” she said. “And since it’s noninvasive for the horse, it’s also better for his welfare, in addition to being more convenient and safer for the handlers.”

The device also has time-saving benefits for large farms. “Imagine how this can change how we deal with infectious disease outbreaks,” Scicluna said. “Instead of temping dozens of horses several times a day, you can pass through the stalls with a microchip reader, record and interpret data in the app or, in the near future, just check the app to see which horses have temperature rises and which ones are recovering.”

Scicluna presented her group’s work at the 2018 French Equine Research Day in Paris.