Your horse is unable to tell you when he is feeling under the weather, but the discerning owner will be able to tell when their equine friend isn’t quite right.
There are several vital signs that you need to know that can help you tell if your horse is off colour and requires veterinary care, or just having a bit of a grumpy day.
In an emergency situation, providing your vet with this information over the phone can be a huge help in getting prompt and appropriate treatment.
As with all medical advice, it is always a good idea to discuss this with your veterinarian. They can offer you on advice on what is normal for your horse and help you learn how to accurately measure your horses vital signs.
Normal: 37.5°C – 38.5°C
A plastic digital thermometer should be used to take your horses temperature rectally. Always lubricate the thermometer with vaseline before inserting it into the rectum. It is a great idea to attach a string to the end of the thermometer to help prevent it getting lost inside!
Your horses temperature will be slightly higher in warm weather and when stressed, excited or after exercise. You can expect a variation of up to 1°C due to environmental factors. If you are worried, measure temperature twice a day and contact your vet if it remains high or changes suddenly.
Normal: 30 – 45 beats per minute for a resting adult horse. Foals and young animals will have a higher pulse.
There are a few places where you can measure your horses pulse. The easiest is to use a stethoscope behind the left elbow, on the girth line, listening for the ‘lub-dub’ sound of each heartbeat. You can also use two fingers (not your thumb as it has its own pulse) to feel for their pulse under the jaw. Take note of the strength of their pulse as well.
Count for 15 seconds and times this by four to get their resting heart rate per minute. If your horse is calm and at rest but has a pulse above 60 beats per minute there may be cause for concern and you should contact your vet. Colic is the most common cause of a high heart rate.
Normal: 8 – 15 breaths per minute for a resting adult horse.
When measuring respiration rate ensure that you count one inhale and one exhale as a single breath. Observe the rise and fall of the horses ribcage to count respiration rate over one minute. If you have a stethoscope, place it against the horses windpipe to listen to their breathing.
Hot, muggy weather, exercise, illness and pain are all common causes of high respiration rate. If your horse is breathing rapidly while they are at rest you should contact your vet right away.
Normal: presence of gut sounds.
You can check for gut sounds by placing your ear or stethoscope up just behind your horses last ribs. If your horse’s gut is healthy you should expect to hear gurgling sounds. Always check for gut sounds on both sides of your horse.
If there are only faint or no gut sounds it is usually a sign of colic so you need to call your vet straight away. The sounds are from food moving through your horses digestive tract. When these sounds are not there it is indicative of a twisted bowel or impaction blocking the intestine.
Normal: 2 seconds or less.
The Capillary Refill Time is the time it takes for blood to return to the gum after it has been firmly. It is an indication of how well blood is circulating. Hold your thump firmly against the gums for two seconds, creating a white mark where pressed.
Once released, blood should return within two seconds, returning the gums to their usual pale pink colour. If it takes three seconds or more, your horse probably has dehydration.
Mucous Membranes are the linings of your horses gums, eyelids and nostrils. Like with the CRT test, checking the colour of these indicate blood circulation. They should be pinkish in colour (slightly paler than your own).
If they are very pale pink, dark red or any shade of yellow or blue, call your vet immediately. Abnormal colours can indicate fever, blood loss, shock, depression or liver issues.