The aim of this study was to evaluate whether the peripheral cytokine expression could be affected by differences in fat thickness in healthy mares during the periparturient period (last weeks of pregnancy and first weeks of lactation). At the beginning of the 11th month of gestation, 18 mares with normal body condition score (BCS; 5) were divided into two groups with low (L; ⩽12 mm; n = 12) and high (H; >12 mm; n = 6) fat thickness. Blood samples were collected every 10 days from the 11th month of gestation to 20 days post partum. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were separated and tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), interferon-γ (IFN-γ), interleukin-1α (IL-1α), -1β (ILβ), -2 (IL-2) and -6 (IL-6) gene expressions were performed by using reverse transcriptase PCR. TNF-α and IFN-γ expressions were affected by fatness group, as the sampling period influenced the expression of all cytokines with the exception of IFN-γ. The interaction between fatness group and sampling period tended to be significant (P < 0.10) only for IL-1β, TNF-α and IL-2. In H group, compared with L group, IL-1β and IL-2 significantly (P < 0.05) increased at parturition. TNF-α peripheral expression increased from parturition to reach the peak at +10 days (P < 0.05) only in H group. In conclusion, in normal BCS periparturient mares, small body fat thickness variations influence the peripheral cytokine expression, showing a possible role for cytokines in parturition and lactation, events strongly linked to adipose tissue availability.