Equine Vitals: What Is Normal?

January 07, 2022 3 min read

Vital sign recording can be one of the last things horse owners consider when bringing a new horse home to enjoy. The training, upkeep, and general care that goes into a horse means taking the time to give your horse a little checkup is often put aside until they don’t feel so good.

According to Penn State University’s Extension Service, establishing baseline measurements ahead of time will allow you to measure a horses’ overall health. While referencing general equine vitals is helpful, each horses’ vital signs should be observed on an individual basis when they’re happy and healthy.

Taking vital signs regularly will help your horse get used to it, eliminating extra stress when they’re colicing or running a fever. The main vital signs are temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR). 

Temperature

Horses’ temperatures are taken rectally. Gently insert the thermometer while standing to the side of the horse and wait for the timer. A horses’ body temperature can be as low as 97°F in the winter, while foals’ temperatures are usually higher – 100°F to 102°F. Foals are susceptible to hypothermia and should be carefully monitored.

Pulse

Heart rate is relatively straightforward, but a few details can influence the heart rate. After exercise or excitement, such as being hauled to the vet, the heart rate will be higher. Smaller horses and foals will have a higher heart rate, while larger horses such as draft breeds will have lower heart rates.

Stethoscopes make the job easier, but if you don’t have one the heart rate can be taken using the facial artery. Using two fingers, find the artery on the bottom side of the jaw towards the cheek. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by four to get the beats per minute.

A horses’ heart is located on the left side of its chest. If using a stethoscope, gently press into the heart girth on the left side and count the beats for 15 seconds, multiplying by four to get the beats per minute.

A horses’ heart rate should fall between 28 and 44 beats per minute.

Respiration

You can find respiration by watching the belly rise and fall, or by holding your hand close to their nose and feeling their breaths.

If using a stethoscope, note the clarity of the breath. Is it deep? Are there abnormal sounds? A horses’ respiration rate should fall between 10 and 24 breaths per minute.

Extra Resources

The Horse Side Vet Guide app (HSVG) was developed by veterinarians and serves as a mobile encyclopedia on horse anatomy and vitals. Its search engine feature lets owners read about ailments such as choke, where symptoms and tips are listed. It contains videos and diagrams that are continuously updated and features pages to keep track of your horses’ own vitals.

The app’s developers stress the importance of involving a veterinarian in animal health treatment and do not claim to be a replacement for a veterinarian, although the information included can help owners make a more informed decision.

Available for the one-time purchase of $4.99 and rated 4.6/5 stars with more than 30 reviews, HSVG is an excellent addition to a horse owners’ medical repertoire.

With ten minutes of measuring and record-taking, horse owners will be more equipped to handle equine emergencies and communicate effectively with their vets.

Click the photo to check out Horse Side Vet Guide.



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