horse health 101 - vet terminology

Horse Health 101: Vet Terminology Guide

Whether it’s a routine check-up or an emergency visit, understanding veterinary terminology is important to keep up with your horse’s health.

Keeping track of all the abbreviations and terminology used by your veterinarian can be the most confusing part of the appointment. Worry not! I have compiled a horse health terminology guide containing the most common abbreviations and terms used when talking about horse health.

Don’t forget to check out the FREE reference guide at the bottom of this post for an easy reference guide that you can keep at your barn!


“What do all these letters mean?” I have definitely found myself asking this at the end of an appointment when I go over the notes my vet left for me. Here are the most common ones that I have come across.

BAR – Bright, Alert, and Responsive.

CBC – Complete Blood Count. This is a blood test that covers all the bases. I can help determine if your horse has an infection as well as check for dehydration, protein amount, and possible anemia.

EIA – Equine Infectious Anemia. This is a highly contagious infection that there is no known cure for. This is what the Coggins Test is looking for. It determines if your horse has EIA.

IM – Intramuscular. This refers to injections given in the muscle.

IV – Intravenous. This refers to injections given into the vein.

IVC – Intravenous via catheter. This refers to injections given into the vein by a catheter. (A catheter is a thin tube).

L / R – Left or Right.

LF / RF / LH / RH – Refers to the horse’s legs. Left Front, Right Front, Left Hind, Right Hind.

N / ABN – Normal or Abnormal.

NSAID – Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug. The most common NSAIDs for horses are Bute (aka PZB), Banamine, and Equioxx.

OS / OD / OU – Refers to the horse’s eyes. Left Eye, Right Eye, Both Eyes.

TPR – Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration. These are the horse’s vital signs.

URT – Upper Respiratory Tract.

WNL – Within Normal Limits.


Medical terms and conditions get tossed around a lot in the horse world. It can be confusing if you don’t understand what they are. With everything from Colic to Strangles, this list of terms should help you understand what’s going on.

Abscess – A localized bacterial infection. Abscesses are commonly talked about in relation to the hoof, but can occur anywhere on the body.

Acute – This implies that the situation is more severe than usual, such as acute laminitis. Acute can also refer to something that began suddenly or only lasted for a short time.

Analgesics – Medications that relieve pain without containing a sedative.

Arthritis – Inflammation in the joints that is long term and can cause severe pain. Horses can develop forms of arthritis just like humans.

Broad-Spectrum – An antibiotic that kills both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. This can also refer to anything that covers many bases, rather than targeting a specific thing (such as broad-spectrum minerals).

Colic – Abdominal pain. Colic can become severe for horses because they do not have the ability to vomit. Severe cases of colic or those left untreated can lead to death.

Cribbing – A bad habit where the horse grasps a solid object, particularly wood, and contracts the lower neck muscles. This releases endorphins that can cause the horse to experience a “high.”

Founder – Another term for Laminitis. Laminitis is the destruction of the laminae in a horse’s hoof (the part that keeps the coffin bone in place). When these are damaged they are extremely hard to repair.

“___-itis” – the suffix “itis” means inflammation. For example, arthritis is the inflammation of the joints.

Lame / Lameness – Any pain or stiffness of the feet and legs, often resulting in a limp.

Sound / Soundness – Refers to the overall health of a horse. A “sound horse” has no lameness or illness. This is commonly used to describe a horse’s gait (especially during a lameness check) but ultimately refers to the entire body.

Strangles – A highly infectious upper respiratory disease. Strangles earned it’s name due to the strangled breathing noises an infected horse makes because of the extreme amount of sinus discharge in the lungs and throat.

Thrush – An fungal infection in the hoof (specifically the frog) that leaves black discharge. Thrush is common in wet environments and is easily cured if action is taken during the early stages.

Do you have other veterinary terms or abbreviations that you’d like to see included? Comment them below! I’d love to here from you.

Don’t forget to download your FREE horse health terminology reference guide to keep on hand at the farm! Wan’t to be able to keep track of all your horse’s important health information? Then also check out our Ultimate Horse Health Log Printable Pack!


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