Checking for Normal Vital Signs
The vital signs of the horse include the heart rate, respiration rate and temperature. Other helpful vital signs are the capillary refill time and skin pinch tests. It is important that you know how to test all these signs to see if the horse is healthy or if there is a problem.
Capillary Refill Time
Normal – 2 seconds. The capillary refill time is a way of checking the circulatory system. This makes it a helpful measure for detecting colic. Capillary refill is measured by lifting the horses upper lip and pressing with your thumb on the gum directly above the front teeth. A white spot will appear when you remove your thumb and should disappear in approximately 2 seconds. If it takes longer then 2 seconds for the spot to return to normal, then the horses circulatory system is slow.
Normal – 100.5 degrees F (38 degrees C)
Range – 99-101.3 degrees F (37.5-38.5 degrees C)
The temperature of a horse is taken rectally, using a lubricated rectal thermometer. Standing to the side of the horse, facing away from the head, lift the tail with one hand. If the horse is clamping their tail tightly to their body, you can rub beside the tail to relax the horse. Insert the thermometer into the anus with your other hand and hold it there for three minutes before reading the temperature.
Note: a string should be tied to the top of the thermometer to prevent the loss of the thermometer into the anus of the horse.
A mild fever is approximately 102 degrees F (39 degrees C);
A moderate fever is approximately 103-104 degrees F (39.5-40 degrees C);
A high fever is approximately 104-106.5 degrees F (40-41.5 degrees C);
A life threatening fever is above 106.5 degrees F (41.5 degrees C)
Normal – 8-16 breaths per minute. Respiration rate of the horse is measured by placing your hand on the Flank of the horse. This allows you to feel the movement as the horse inhales and exhales. One inhale and exhale = one breath.
Remember: after exercise, in warm weather and in poorly ventilated areas the horses respiration rate will be higher and the breathing deeper.
Heart Rate / Pulse
Normal – 30-44 beats per minute. The heart rate (pulse) tells you how fast the heart of the horse is beating. The heart rate can be measured in several different places, anywhere the is an artery close to the surface of the skin. Arteries can be found:
• Under the jaw
• Behind the eye
• Inside the Elbow joint
• At the carotid artery of the Neck
Experiment with your horse to find the area that is the easiest for you. Remember: pulse rate is affected by exercise, excitement, air temperature and age. A young horse will have a much faster heart rate then an older horse.