Don’t wait for a horse care emergency before learning how to take and interpret your horse’s vital signs. You should be familiar with your horse’s normal temperature, heart rate, respiration rate, and gut sounds, know how to perform a pinch test and interpret her capillary refill time and be able to recognize the normal color and texture of the mucous membranes that line your horse’s eyelids, gums, and nostrils.
Perform all of these tests regularly—weekly if possible. The more often you do the tests, the more capable you will be in an emergency. Download our free Colic Preparedness Report. It contains a helpful form that you can use to record your horse’s normal vital signs.
- Temperature: Normal equine body temperature is between 99 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit, although this can vary by up to 3 degrees.
- Heart Rate: A normal, adult horse at rest should have a pulse rate between 30 and 40 beats per minute (BPM). Higher than 50 is cause for concern unless the horse is less than 2 years old.
- Respiration: The average respiration rate of a healthy, resting adult horse is 8 to 15 breaths per minute. Contact your veterinarian if your horse’s respiration rate is elevated. If it exceeds the pulse rate, it is an emergency.
- Gut Sounds: When you listen to your horse’s gut sounds, silence is more serious than noise. The absence of gut sounds is a strong indicator for colic. Contact your veterinarian.
- Pinch Test: A dehydrated horse’s skin does not spring back quickly. In a healthy, well-hydrated horse, the skin on the neck will flatten in 1 second or less.
- Capillary Refill Time (CRT): Lift your horse’s upper lip and press for 2 seconds to whiten the gum. Normal CRT is 1 to 2 seconds. Longer than 2 seconds may indicate shock—your horse needs veterinary care at once.
- Mucous Membranes: The skin lining your horse’s eyelids, gums and nostrils should be moist and pink. Pale gums can indicate anemia while bright red is a sign of mild shock or toxicity. Gray or blue gums are a sign of severe shock or illness and require immediate medical attention.
You know your horse better than anyone else. If a behavior looks unusual, out of the ordinary, weird, troubling or just plain funky, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian.
Every day, give your horse the once-over. Does she look relaxed? Has she eaten? Drank the usual amount? Good.
Take a look around your feet. How’s the poop looking? Normal? Loose? Dry? If there is no poop—that’s not good. If your horse went all night without producing any manure, it’s time to call the vet.
Lay your head on her side. Too noisy? Too quiet?
Walk her around a bit and see how she moves. Colic hurts and you’ll notice a difference in her gait if she’s feeling pain.
Remember: trust your gut if you think there’s a problem!
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