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Ask the Vet, Sallie S. Hyman VMD, DACVIM: Equine Vital Signs. What's Normal?
A horse's normal body temperature ranges from 99-101° F. Your horse's normal body temperature can vary up to three degrees depending on environmental factors such as the weather, stress, and exercise. It will be higher in warmer weather, if he is excited, if he has just exercised, and often times, in the early evening. You should take your horse's temperature at different times of the day to get a baseline for what is normal for your horse.
How to take your horse's temperature:
Any temperature about 102° F or higher should prompt a call to your veterinarian. A fever does not always indicate an infection, but any condition that increases normal body temperature should be looked at.
Heart Rate (HR)
The normal heart rate of an adult horse at rest is 30-40 beats per minute (bpm). Foals have a higher resting heart rate that averages 70-120 bpm. Your horse's heart rate will be higher if he is excited, in pain, has certain diseases, or has just exercised.
How to take your horse's heart rate:
Heart rates no associated with exercise, especially if combined with abnormal behavior should be taken seriously. Any heart rate over 40 bpm warrants a call to your veterinarian. A heart rate over 60 bpm indicates a severe condition and should be treated as an emergency.
Respiratory Rate (RR)
A normal respiratory rate for an adult horse is 8-15 breaths per minute (bpm). Respiration should consist of inhalation and exhalation, which should be of equal length. Heat, humidity, exercise, fever, and pain can cause increase in the respiratory rate.
How to take your horse's respiration rate:
A high respiratory rate, increased effort when inhaling or exhaling, or noise when breathing should prompt a call to your veterinarian.
Borborygmi (Gut Sounds)
Horse's intestines are in almost constant motion and that results in constant noise from them. Sometimes the sounds may be quieter than others, but they are always there. Excessive sounds may indicate irritation or inflammation of the intestines, as in the case of diarrhea. The absence of borborymi can indicate a serious problem, such as colic.
How to listen for Gut Sounds:
If your horse has no borborygmi and any other signs such as loss of appetite, fever, pawing, or laying down, contact your veterinarian.
Capillary Refill Time (CRT)
Capillary Refill Time (CRT) is the time it takes for blood to return to blanched tissues in the gums. This is an indicator of blood circulation. Normal refill time is one to two seconds.
How to check your horse's capillary refill:
If your horse's CRT is three seconds or more it can indicate poor circulation, dehydration, or illness. Contact your veterinarian.
Mucus Membrane Color
Mucus membranes are th tissues that line the eyelids, lips, gums, nostrils, and vulva. The color of the mucus membranes is another indicator of blood circulation. Healthy mucus membranes are a moist pink. They can sometimes have a pale yellow tinge to them as well. Dry mucus membranes may signal dehydration.
Color can indicate various conditions:
- Very pale pink: blood loss, anemia
- White: severe blood loss anemia, shock
- Bright red/red purple: toxicity, mild shock
- Gray/Blue: severe shock, decreased oxygen
- Bright yellow: Liver disease
If your horse's mucus membranes are any of the above, contact your veterinarian immediately
Knowing what is normal for your horse will help you determine when thing are NOT normal, and provide a wealth of information for your veterinarian.
Information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for evaluation by an equine professional. In particular, all horse owners should seek advice from a veterinarian for their horses medical needs.
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