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 Horse Vital SIgns

Every horse owner should know his or her horse’s normal vital signs.  By regularly practicing on your horse, you will not only be able to recognize what is normal, but also what is not normal.


Normal heart rate: 28-44 beats per minute. Use a stethoscope to listen to the heart on the left side of the horse, just behind the elbow in the girth area. Every horse owner should have a stethoscope ($20.00).  If a stethoscope is not handy, you can take the pulse from the lingual artery (which has a circumference similar to a No. 2 pencil), which is on the bottom side of the jaw where it crosses the bone. Take the pulse for 15 seconds then multiply that number by four to determine heart rate in beats per minute.  Practice taking your horse’s lingual pulse.


Tools to check vital signs Normal temperature: 99-101°F; 37.2-38.3°C. Take your horse’s rectal temperature using a digital thermometer that’s been dipped in a small amount of lubricant. Make sure you hold the thermometer in place or better yet, clip a string attached to the thermometer to the tail.


Normal respiratory rate: 10-24 breaths per minute. Measure the respiratory rate by watching the horse's flank move in and out (each inhale or exhale is one breath), watching the horse’s nostrils flare with every breath (do not place your hand or anything near his nostrils), or using a stethoscope to listen to the breaths as the air travels across the trachea when the horse inhales and exhales. This should sound clear.


The mucous membranes, which line the mouth and gums, should be moist and pink. Normal capillary refill time (the time it takes for capillaries in the gums to return to pink after being pressed with a finger): 2 seconds or less.


Listen to your horse’s gut sounds by placing your ear or, preferably, a stethoscope, against both sides of the abdomen, high and low. A healthy horse’s gut sounds should be gurgling, with gaslike growls, "tinkling" sounds (fluid), and occasional "roars." Prolonged silence indicates an abnormality and could indicate colic.