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Three Vital Signs to Assure Horse's Health
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Three Vital Signs to Assure Horse's Health

Veterinarian house calls may become very expensive. Owners may avoid the expense of some house calls by supplying the veterinarian with important information over the telephone. In addition to inquiring about gut sounds and visual signs of mucous, a veterinarian will ask for pulse, respiration rate and temperature. These three vital signs may supply valuable information quickly to obtain critical healthcare in a life-threatening situation.

  1. Pulse:  If a stethoscope is not available, check the pulse by firmly pressing a forefinger at the lower side of the jaw in the lingual artery for 15 seconds to count the beats and multiply times four. The pulse may also be checked by listening with a stethoscope on the left side of the chest for a "lub-dub" sound. Count the number of beats in a minute. The normal pulse rate for an adult horse is 32–44 beats per minute. Very young foals may have a pulse rate from 60-100 depending on the age of the foal. A pulse rate of 50 or higher in an adult horse at rest should be reported to the veterinarian.
  2. Respiration:  If a stethoscope is available, listen for crackling or wheezing sounds by placing the stethoscope over the horse’s windpipe. Count the number of breaths in a minute. The normal respiration rate for an adult horse is 8-12 breaths per minute. The respiratory rate for a very young foal may vary from 20-80. If the horse becomes excited the respiratory rate may change temporarily. The respiration rate may also be checked by counting the number of times the rib cage rises in a minute if no stethoscope is available.
  3. Temperature:  A digital thermometer and petroleum jelly will be needed to take the horse’s temperature. A sturdy string should be tied around the end of the thermometer with a clothespin attached to the opposite end. Clip the clothespin to the horse’s tail before insertion. The clip will assist in locating the thermometer should the horse defecate or not cooperate. Apply petroleum jelly to the end of the thermometer. Stand to one side of the horse and gently raise the horse’s tail while inserting the thermometer into the horse’s rectum. Do not stand directly behind the horse as he or she may kick. Normal temperature for an adult horse at rest is 99.5 to 101.5F degrees.


Photo is courtesy of Student Works MU Equine Center 0050 as uploaded by CAFNR at Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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