A promising new way to monitor equine disease

Implanted microchips that can monitor a horse’s body temperature show promise for the early detection of disease outbreaks.

A large-scale study from France validates the accuracy of implanted microchips that measure body temperature, suggesting the technology will be helpful in early detection of disease outbreaks.

Two horses standing together in a pipe paddock.
Male horses, generally speaking, have a slightly higher body temperature than females..

Microchips implanted in the nuchal ligament of a horse’s neck and read with a handheld scanner have long been used for identification purposes. The scanner detects a code on the chip, which can then be looked up in a database containing the horse’s information. Recent advances in microchip technology have enabled a new generation of bio-thermal chips to also monitor body temperature.

Researchers at the INRAE/Université Paris-Saclay and the IFCE/Chamberet Experimental Station in central France recently tested the reliability of bio-thermal chips in 43 foals and yearlings stabled indoors over two winters. Antennas placed near the shared water troughs replaced hand-held scanners, collecting and transmitting data on more than 100,000 occasions at different times of the day for the entire study period.

The data chips showed that the herd’s average body temperature was 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celsius) with male horses having slightly higher temperature averages than female. Average temperatures were lowest just before dawn and peaked around 6 p.m. To verify the data retrieved from the chips, the researchers intermittently collected temperature information using a conventional rectal thermometer on a random sampling of horses; they found that the two result sets were consistent with each other.

These findings, the researchers say, suggest that bio-thermal chips have potential for monitoring the health of individual horses as well as herds, enabling early detection of outbreaks of infectious diseases such as equine herpesvirus encephalitis or salmonellosis.

Reference: “No-Contact Microchip Monitoring of Body Temperature in Yearling Horses,”Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, March 2020 

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