Equine Vital Signs

Being able to identify normal temperatures and vital signs is part of being a responsible horse owner and allows us to give our animals the best possible care. The ability to recognize minor health concerns and act accordingly, can often help prevent big problems down the road. Even still, many owners find themselves stumped when it comes to memorizing and recalling the normal parameters of equine health. If you tend to find yourself in this category, this blog’s for you! Here are the normal parameters of equine health, in a nutshell.

In general, a healthy horse should appear alert with bright, clear eyes and erect ears that move in new directions of sound. The horse will display a healthy appetite, have a body condition score of 4-7 and move soundly on all four legs. It’s coat should be sleek and short in the summer and heavier and longer in the winter. The hooves should be smooth and correctly shaped and a digital pulse should be barely perceptible.

A healthy horse should appear alert with bright, clear eyes and erect ears.

TEMPERATURE

The temperature of a healthy horse can vary due to a few reasons:
The time of day
Gender of the animal
Ambient temperature
Excessive exercise or excitement

Normally, a horse’s temperature should be between:
• 99-101 degrees Farenheit
• 37-38.3 degrees Celsius

HEART RATE
32-40 beats per minute for an adult horse
40-60 beats per minute for a yearling
80-120 beats per minute for newborn foals

Of course, these parameters can increase after exercise, heat, excitement, fright, fever or drugs. Heart rate can also decrease with poor health and old age.

RESPIRATORY RATE
Normal is: 8-16 breaths per minute.
(One respiration is one complete rise and fall of the rib cage and flank.) Again, respiration rate can increase with pain, illness, pregnancy, exercise or fever.

MUCOUS MEMBRANES
The mucous membranes of the horse are located in the mouth (lips, gums), vagina, prepuce, nostrils, and conjunctiva (inner surface of the eye). Normally, these areas should be light pink and anything different are typically indications of poor health (for example, very pale pink to white may be an indication of anemia, pain or hemorrage). Blueish mucosa means there is a lack of oxygen in the blood. Bright red can indicate a severe viral or bacterial infection. And yellow/jaundice colored mucosa can mean a rare liver disease.

CAPILLARY REFILL TIME (CRT)
1-3 seconds

Capillary refill time is the time it takes for mucosa (typically the gums of the horse) to return to a normal color (light pink), after the surface is pressed with a finger tip. If it takes longer than 3 seconds for the gums to return to light pink, this can mean shock or dehydration.

SKIN PLIABILITY

The horse’s skin should be elastic and when pinched, it should return to a norma position almost immediately. If the skin “tents,” (and takes 6-10 seconds to return to normal) this is typically a sign of dehydration. The amount of “tenting” is proportional to the degree of dehydration.

GUT SOUNDS
Gut sounds are the term we use for the noise heard when the horse has movement of the gastrical intestinal track moving fluid down the track. What you should hear when listening for gut sounds are normal, intermittent sounds of 2-4 per minute. There should also be 1 large gurgle every 2 minutes. You can listen for guts sounds in the flank area, either high or low by the flank.

No gut sounds or abnormal ones can indicate an intestinal blockage or accidental twist of the gut, which is very dangerous because this is colic. High pitched frequent sound can also be a sign of colic as this indicates a gas build up.