Vitals and Other Important Horse Information
It’s good to know a healthy horse’s vitals and other important horse information, just in case something happens. Whether your horse is sick or injured, or even if you’re not sure what’s wrong, being able to tell your vet these things can help the two of you figure out what’s wrong and determine whether a vet visit is needed. Keeping this important horse information on a card in your barn first aid kit will help you in case of an emergency.
Knowing your horse’s heart rate is important if your horse is ever sick or hurt. An elevated heart rate indicates some sort of distress, such as pain.
A normal heart rate for a horse is anywhere between 28 to 44 beats per minute. To check your horse’s heart rate, you can listen to his heartbeat with a stethoscope, or feel for his pulse where his lingual artery crosses the bone on the underside of the jaw.
Checking your horse’s breathing rate is useful, as rapid breaths can be a sign of distress. A healthy horse should breathe between 10 and 24 times per minute.
Set a timer and count breaths by the number of times his sides move as he breathes in and out, or the number of times his nostrils expand with each breath. Don’t put anything in front of his nose to feel for his breath, as he will sniff faster than he would normally breathe.
Normally your horse’s temperature should be between 99 and 101 degrees Fahrenheit. A high temperature can indicate an illness or infection.
Before inserting the thermometer, tie one end of a string to the thermometer and the other end to the horse’s tail, or just make sure you keep a tight hold of the thermometer at all times. Coat the thermometer in Vaseline and insert it inside the horse’s rectum by several inches, making sure to give the thermometer plenty of time to get a reading before you remove it.
If your horse is lame or tender-footed, check for a digital pulse. This pulse can be found on the side of a horse’s leg, just below the fetlock joint. A strong, rapid, or uneven digital pulse may indicate laminitis or another source of pain and inflammation. Don’t worry if you can’t find it, though, as a normal digital pulse is typically pretty faint.
Checking for Dehydration
If your horse is colicky or has been drinking less than usual, you should check for dehydration. One way is to check the gums: They should be pink, moist, and turn from white back to pink again within two seconds or less when you press on them.
Another method for checking your horse’s hydration is pinching his skin. A hydrated horse’s skin will return to its normal shape within two seconds or less. If the skin takes longer to return to normal, or maintains the peaked, pinched shape, your horse is dehydrated.
Know Your Horse
Knowing important horse information and normal vitals isn’t enough. Every horse is different, so it’s important to know what your horse’s normal temperature is, how fast his heart rate and respiration usually are, and what his digital pulse feels like. Make checking these things part of your regular routine, and you’ll not only get to know your horse’s “normal” pretty well, you may also catch an injury or an illness earlier than you otherwise may have.