It is important to establish what is “normal” for your horse. Knowing your horses behavior and vital signs when he is feeling good will help you quickly determine when your horse may need veterinary care.
Vital Signs – The Normal Ranges:
· Temperature- A horse's normal body temperature is 99 - 101 F.
· Pulse- The normal pulse rate, most often taken by listening to the heart on the left side of the chest just behind the left elbow, is 30 to 40 beats per minute.
Young stock and ponies tend to be a bit faster.
· Respiration-The normal rate for horses is between 8-12 breaths per minute.
· Capillary Refill Time (time it takes for color to return to gum tissue adjacent to teeth after pressing and releasing with your thumb): 2 seconds.
How To Take a Horse's Temperature:
The most accurate way to take a horse's temperature is rectally. Always secure a string to the end of the thermometer, so that it doesn't get lost. Tack shops and pharmacies sell all types of thermometers. Plastic digital thermometers work very well and are generally easier to use, and most of them beep when they are done. Be sure that if you use an older mercury-type thermometer that you shake down the mercury before taking the horse's temperature.
The horse should be tied or held still by an assistant. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer with petroleum jelly, Vaseline or saliva. Move the horse's tail to the side and out of the way and insert the thermometer into the horse's rectum, angled slightly towards the ground. Do not stand directly behind the horse, because some horses don't like this - but most don't mind. For the most accurate reading, leave the thermometer in position for at least 3 minutes. Many digital thermometers work well in less than 1 minute.
Always clean the thermometer well before returning it to its case...and especially if used on an ill horse, to prevent the spreading of an illness.
How To Check a Horse's Pulse:
The horse's pulse can be found near the front of the left jawbone. Under the jawbone, there is a major artery that sticks out slightly. Using your forefinger (never your thumb - because you may feel your own pulse), press against the artery firmly. Use a clock or counter to time a 15 second period. Multiply the number of beats you counted by 4.
You may also place your hand or a stethoscope behind the horse's left elbow to take his pulse. Be sure to count each lub-dub as 1 beat.
How To Check The Respiration Rate:
Watch or feel your horse's ribcage/belly for one minute. Be sure to count 1 inhale and 1 exhale as one breath (not as two). Each breath is fairly slow. If you are having difficulty seeing the ribcage move, try watching the horse's nostrils or place your hand in front of the nostrils to feel the horse exhale.
An even better method is to place a stethoscope to the horse's windpipe to listen to his breathing. This will also give you strange sounds if the horse's windpipe is blocked by mucous or if the he has allergies or heaves.
How To Check Capillary Refill Time:
Capillary Refill Time (CRT) is the time it takes for blood to return to blanched tissues in the gums. This is an indicator of blood circulation. Normal refill time is 1 to 2 seconds.
Lift your horse's upper lip up and firmly press your thumb against his gums for 2 seconds to create a white mark. This white mark should return to the normal pink color within 1-2 seconds after releasing the pressure.
If the CRT takes longer than 2 seconds, the horse may have shock.
Another important factor in your horses well being is hydration, especially during these hot summer months.
Healthy horses drink a minimum of 5 gallons of water per day. If your horse is dehydrated, it is very important that you urge him to drink. If he refuses to drink water, try adding flavor to it (Gatorade or apple juice are ideal), and contact your veterinarian if he still won't drink.
How To Perform a Pinch Test:
Pinch the skin on your horse's neck. If the skin flattens back into place when you let go in less than 1 second, the horse is fine. If it doesn't, it means he isn't drinking enough water, he is dehydrated.
The longer the skin stays pinched up before flattening, the more dehydrated he is.
If you think your horse may be ill it is recommended that you seek the advice of your veterinarian immediately.