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  • Checking Your Horse's Vital Signs
  • Post author
    Equine Nutrition

Checking Your Horse's Vital Signs

Checking Your Horse's Vital Signs

Knowing how to check your horse's vital signs; means you can identify a change and seek professional advice if needed. Keeping a weekly recorded check on your horse's vital signs, is very useful to compare to previous checks taken.

Respiratory Rate

 

Why Is It Important To Check?

Your horse's respiratory system allows maximum output with minimum effort - essential for hard work, fast work and jumping. Laboured breathing or a very high respiratory rate is a clear indicator of a problem in the lungs or pain response.

What Is Normal?

A healthy respiratory rate is very slow, as your horse's lung capacity is much greater than of a human. At rest, your horse should take 10 - 20 breaths per minute; this rate will increase when your horse is working hard or when he is investigating by smelling.

How To Check.

Observe your horse's ribcage and belly, and count his respirations by the movement of his sides. Alternatively, hold your hand near your horse's nostrils to feel the breaths. Count the number of breaths over 30 seconds, then multiply by 2 — inhalation and exhalation count as one breath.

 

Temperature

checking horse temp

 

Why Is It Important to Check?

It is important to check your horse's temperature so you can see if it is normal or high. A high temperature can indicate an illness or infection.

What Is Normal?

A healthy adult horse should have a temperature of 37.2ºC - 38.3ºC. Taking your horse's temperature regularly will help you establish what average for your horse is. Keeping in mind that temperature can be affected by exercise or hot weather. Take your horse's temperature when they are at rest.

How To Check.

Your horse should be tired up or held throughout the process; you should stand safely to the side of your horse. Use a small amount of petroleum jelly on the end of the thermometer as a lubricant and insert the thermometer into your horse's rectum at a 45º angle, so it touches the wall. Do not remove the thermometer until it beeps. If using a mercury thermometer, gently shake it before inserting into your horse's rectum and leave it in for 60 seconds.

Useful Tip:

Tie a length of string through the handle end of the thermometer to avoid losing it.

 

Heart Rate

 

Why Is It Important To Check?

A healthy horse at rest has a slower heart rate than a human. An increase in beats per minute can indicate fear, excitement, pain or illness - ordinarily, the higher the heart rate, the more severe the problem. A slower than average heart rate is only a concern if it is abnormal for your horse, so it is important to know what to expect when you take it.

What Is Normal?

Ordinarily, a resting horse will have a heart rate of 28 - 44 beats per minute. An extremely fit horse, for example, an upper-level eventer or racehorse will have an increased level of aerobic fitness and the capacity to circulate more blood with every heartbeat, meaning that their resting heart rate may be considerably lower. A heart rate of 20 may not be abnormal in this type of horse.

How To Check.

If you have a stethoscope, hold it just behind your horses left elbow and count how many heartbeats you can hear in 15 seconds. Multiply this by 4 to calculate the beats per minute.
If you do not have a stethoscope at hand, you can take a reading from the mandibular artery. To do this, place your fingers under your horse's jaw, in the space between their cheeks. Feel around the inside of your horse's cheekbone until you find a large, rope-like structure that is the mandibular artery. Press down lightly until you can feel the pulse. Only take a reading with your index or middle fingers as your thumb has its own pulse which can be difficult to differentiate from. Count how many beats you feel in 15 seconds.

Fact

Your horse's heart is different to their digital pulse, which is taken just below the fetlock and can indicate a problem in the hoof if it is bounding.

Fact

Arrhythmia - or occasionally missed beats, is rarely a symptom of a serious problem, but if paired with a change in your horse's behaviour, speak to your vet.

Gums


Why Is It Important To Check?

Your horse's gums are the largest canvas on which to observe their mucous membranes, which are present in the lining of their nostrils and eyes too. Your observations can give you an insight into your horse's circulation and hydration levels.

What Is Normal?

In a healthy, hydrated horse, the mucous membranes will be salmon pink and moist. Your horse's capillary refill time, or the time that it takes the delicate blood vessels of their gums to fill, will be less than 2 seconds.


Gum Colour Indications.

  • Extremely pale gums can be an indicator of anaemia or extreme blood loss.
  • Red gums can be caused by toxicity or shock.
  • Grey or Blue-tinged gums can indicate more severe shock or illness.
  • Yellow gums are associated with liver problems.

    Capillary Refill Time.

    A capillary refill time of more than 2 seconds can indicate a circulation problem or dehydration.

    How To Check The Colour Of Your Horses Gums.

    Lift your horse's upper lip so that you can see their gums and observe the colour of their gums.

    How To Check Your Horses Capillary Refill Time.

    To check the capillary refill time, press on your horse's gum with your thumb for a couple of seconds. When you take your thumb away from the gum, the area should be pale. Count how long it takes to return to its normal colour.

    How To Check Your Horses Hydration Levels.

    Touch your horse's gums to check whether they're dry or tacky, which will help you ascertain their hydration levels.

    Gut Sounds

    Why Is It Important To Check?

    Your horse's digestive tract is a complex machine that must be kept ticking over for maximum efficacy. The golden rule of feeding "little and often" is based on this long and incremental digestion process. Because of this, your horse's gut should constantly make noises as it moves food through - a silent stomach is a cause for concern.

    What Is Normal?

    A healthy gut makes a variety of noises, from gurgling sounds and fluid tinkling to roaring and wooshing noises. The most concerning noise are one that is absent, as it indicates a loss of function in that area of the digestive tract and can be a sign of colic. Listen often to your horse's stomach to establish what is normal.

    How To Listen Your Horses Gut Noises.

    Using a stethoscope or just your ear's pressed to your horse's side, listen for noises behind your horse's last rib, level with your horses hip. Listen for 15 seconds, then move down to stifle level and listen again. Repeat on both sides of your horse and at both levels.

    Fact

    Your horse's stomach is about the size of a rugby ball, with a capacity of 8 - 15 litres. In comparison, a cow's primary stomach (the rumen), has a capacity of about 184 litres.
    • Post author
      Equine Nutrition