Know Your Horse's Vital Signs

It’s usually pretty obvious to most experienced horse owners when a horse seems under the weather. But “under the weather” is too vague if you’re trying to decide if you should call your veterinarian or simply wait a few hours or until tomorrow to see if he’s once again his normal self. To help you make the correct decision, it’s important to have a track record of your horse’s vital signs under different temperature and weather conditions, and at different times of the day. This information will also help your vet to evaluate your horse’s condition and to determine the correct course of treatment, if any.

So what are a horse’s vital signs, and how do you measure them? Generally this term refers to the horse’s temperature, pulse (heart rate), and respiration rate, all taken when the horse is at rest. Be aware that what is normal for one horse may not be normal for another, so it’s wise to assess your horse’s vital signs before you think that he is not feeling his best, so that your veterinarian can more accurately determine how serious the situation may be. While he is healthy, then, you should take his temperature, his pulse, and his respiration rate over a few days and under different weather and temperature conditions. Record these in a notebook that you keep at the barn so that you have a comparison should you suspect your horse is becoming ill.

 Different horses may have somewhat different values for their vital signs, yet all will be normal readings. For example, some horses have a normal temperature of 98.5 degrees. For others it may be 101.0. If your horse’s normal temperature is on the lower end, a temperature of 101.5 may mean he is becoming ill, but if his normal temperature is 101.0, this temperature is within the normal range for him, and not an indication of illness. And remember, if it’s a hot day, these values will be somewhat higher than what is generally listed as “normal.” An excited horse will also have elevated vital signs. So assess his temperature, pulse and respiration over several days, and when the weather is hot or particularly cold as well as temperate. In your notebook, record the RANGE of values for each sign.