A horse’s vital signs should be taken, examined, and documented while assessing its health. Evaluation should take place when the horse is well in order to set baseline values and track general health, as well as when the horse is ill in order to identify any deviations from the norm. Taking vital signs on a regular basis will help you get used to the activities and assist your horse get desensitized to them. Three important vital signs that need to be evaluated are temperature, pulse (heart rate), and respiration (breathing rate), which is also known as TPR. To measure tissue blow flow and dehydration, the horse’s gums, a mucous membrane, should also be examined.
The vital signs that are normally collected, their usual ranges in a healthy horse, and the supplies you’ll need to take measurements are listed in the table below. Adult horses at rest are included in the mentioned values. Recently exercised horses would have greater worth. Furthermore, the size of the horse may also affect the rate; larger horses typically command lower rates, while smaller horses typically command higher rates. Prior to suspecting disease, always evaluate each individual horse and determine its averages.
Temperature, Pulse, and Respiration
How to Take a Horse's Temperature
You will need lubricant and either a digital or mercury thermometer to take your horse’s temperature. After applying lubricant to the thermometer, place it in the rectum and hold it there for the designated amount of time (which varies depending on the thermometer; refer to the directions for your specific device). Make sure you are in a secure position and that your left side is right next to or against the horse’s hip when you insert the thermometer. For insertion, make sure the horse’s tail is softly raised and moved.
Once the thermometer reading is complete, remove it to view the temperature that is shown. Hold the thermometer in place. If you are using a glass or mercury thermometer, you should attach it to the tail to keep it from breaking if it falls to the ground from being forced out. The simpler and safer approach is to use a digital thermometer.
How to measure a Horse’s Pulse/Hate Rate
There are two methods to take a horse’s pulse: using a stethoscope to listen to the heartbeat or by palpating (feeling) an artery. The majority of people find that listening to the heartbeat with a stethoscope is simpler, but if one is not accessible, palpation is a good substitute.
Insert the earpieces into your ears with the tips facing forward to use a stethoscope. The diaphragm should then be positioned below the horse’s elbow on its left side. Keep an ear out for a “lub-dub” sound, and during thirty seconds, count how many times you hear it. Every “lub-dub” has a single count. To get how many beats per minute the number is, multiply it by two.
Three arteries can be felt to determine the horse’s heart rate if you wish to palpate them: the digital artery, which is located immediately below the fetlock, the radial artery, which is located within the knee, and the maxillary artery, which is located beneath the jawbone. The middle finger and either the index or ring finger must be placed on one of these arteries so that you can feel the “pulse” of blood flow. Over a thirty-second period, count the number of times you feel this pulse.
How to Measure a Horse’s Respiration rate
A horse’s respiration can be calculated by counting how many breaths it takes in a minute. When assessing this, it is preferable to glance at the horse’s flank. Then, count the number of breaths the horse inhales and expels over a thirty-second period, and multiply the result by two. It is not advised to use the nostrils to gauge breathing rate because they are hard to see and the movement caused by smelling could be misinterpreted for breathing.
Mucous Membranes and Capillary Refill Tests
A horse’s level of hydration and tissue blood flow can be assessed by looking at its gums, which are mucous membranes—tissues bordering an area where mucus is secreted. Making sure the horse’s gums are wet and smooth instead of dry and tacky can be accomplished by running your fingertips over them. Moreover, note the gums’ color, which ought to be pink. Contacting a veterinarian is necessary if the gums seem pale or dark red.
It is best to do a capillary refill test to assess the hydration and blood flow of the tissue. This can be accomplished by placing your thumb on the horse’s gum and lightly pressing down until the color (approximately three seconds) disappears from below the finger. Let go and time how soon the pink hue reappears. Within 1-2 seconds, this will happen to a healthy horse. Anything less than this can be a sign of a medical condition causing a delay in blood circulation.
When assessing the horse’s gums, safety is crucial. While you are doing this assessment, take care to avoid getting bitten by the horse. Choose a secure spot (like a wash rack or stall) to keep your horse under control as it might turn its head and back to avoid having its mouth examined.
To test for dehydration, you can also tent the horse’s skin, a procedure called a skin pliability test. To accomplish this, pinch up into a “tent” shape a fold of skin on the horse’s neck or shoulder. In around one and a half seconds after you release the skin, it should be flat against the body again. Your horse may be dehydrated, so call your veterinarian if it takes more than four seconds for the skin to return to normal.