What are my horse's vitals, and why do I check them? How do I check them?
It's important to know how your horse is on a daily basis, so that you can be alerted to anything that's "off", before you see any signs. For example, when you take your horse's temperature, it's a little higher than normal. You can then check all other vitals, notice water, manure, attitude, and food consumption. This also alerts you to monitor throughout the day, and call your Veterinarian. Without this check, perhaps your horse's fever would go unnoticed until nightfall, and could be much more serious.
You need to dig deep to listen to the hearbeat. Stand on your horse's left side and place your stethoscope between his elbow and chest. Your hand may disappear!
It's also critical to know your horse's vitals so that in an emergency, you can inform the Veterinarian what is normal vs. what is going on at the present moment. For example, you suspect a colic, and your horse's temperature is normal, but his capillary refill time is longer and his respiration is higher. Good to know, right?
So what are the normal values for a horse?
Temperature - 99.5 to 101.5
For foals, up to 102 is normal.
Pulse (Heart Rate) - 24 to 40 beats per minute, although most horses are between 32 and 36.
For newborn foals, 80 to 100 is normal, and for older foals, 60 to 80 is normal.
Respiration - 8 to 12 breaths per minute
For foals, 60-80 breaths per minute
Capillary Refill - approximately 2 seconds
How do you take these measurements?
For temperature, a good thermometer is key. Some folks like digital because it's quick and they don't shatter if you drop them, some folks believe they are inaccurate, especially if the battery is draining.
Use a bit of lubrication, like saliva or jelly, and insert into the rectum under the tail. Be very safe and cautious the first times doing this!! Stand next to your horse, and have a helper.
Pick your tool! I like the digital - they are fast, but the batteries poop out eventually. (See what I did there?)
For heart rate, you can use a stethoscope on the left side of the chest behind the elbow. Count beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. You can also put your fingers across the lingual artery which runs at the bottom of the jaw across the bone.
For respiration, watch the chest.
For capillary refill, press your thumb firmly into the gums. Remove quickly and measure the time it takes for the white gum to return to pink. Note - any abnormal gum colors such as shades of red, blue or white are serious. Call your Veterinarian right away.
Do you know your horse's vital signs?