If you call the vet out to examine a sick horse, it's extremely helpful if you can provide a history of the animal's vital signs. This will enable the vet to get a clearer picture of what's normal for your horse, versus his current state of health, which can be key in establishing a diagnosis. However, many horse owners don't know how to check their horse's vitals. Read on to find out more.
The normal resting respiratory rate for an adult horse is between 8 and 12 breaths per minute, although this can vary between individuals. In warm weather, or if the horse is stressed, the rate may be slightly higher.
To measure the respiratory rate, observe the horse's flanks as they move in and out, counting every exhale as one breath.
The horse's normal resting heart rate is between 28 to 45 beats per minute. The lingual artery is a thick, prominent blood vessel that runs across the bottom of the jaw and over the bone. This is the easiest place to check the horse's pulse.
Use your index and middle fingers together to apply gentle pressure to the lingual artery so that you can feel the horse's heartbeat. Count the beats for 15 seconds, and then multiply this figure by four to obtain the pulse rate per minute.
A healthy horse's normal temperature should be between 37.2°C and 38.3°C. This can vary slightly at different times during the day, so always take your horse's temperature at the same time to get an accurate normal figure.
You'll need a digital thermometer in order to take your horse's temperature, together with a lubricant such as petroleum jelly. Digital thermometers suitable for use on horses aren't expensive and can be obtained from good tack shops, from pet stores, or from your vet clinic.
Press the re-set button on the side of the thermometer to put the digital display back to zero. Dip the thermometer into the lubricant, and then insert it gently into the horse's rectum, keeping a tight hold on the end of the thermometer so that you don't lose it. Wait a minute or so until the thermometer 'beeps' to signal that the temperature recording has stabilised. Remove the thermometer and make a note of the temperature shown on the display.
Every horse owner should know how to take their horse's vital signs and should check them on a weekly basis. A history of what's normal for your horse will be extremely helpful to your vet in the event that your animal is sick. You'll also be able to spot abnormalities or a change from what's usual before your horse becomes ill, meaning that you can consult your vet sooner, possibly preventing a more serious condition from developing and leading to a quicker recovery.
For more information about caring for your horse, schedule a consultation with your vet.