One of the easiest ways to check on the health and vitality of a horse is to check its vital signs. If you happen to own a horse, ride one frequently, or handle them, knowing how to check on a horse’s vital signs is incredibly important. You’ll be able to know if the horse is feeling ill or requires attention from a local veterinarian.
Any time you see or sense a change in the behavior of a horse, the vital signs should be checked. Good routine care involves checking the vital signs at least once per week. It can take some time to learn what the data you collect actually means, but with practice, you’ll be able to get to know each horse better and react quickly when you sense that something is wrong.
What Should the Temperature of a Horse Be?
The normal body temperature for a horse is usually between 99-101F. Temperatures that are higher than this may indicate that there is an infection present somewhere in the horse’s body. It should be noted, however, that a horse’s body temperature can rise by three degrees (and sometimes more) in certain environmental or working conditions.
If a horse’s temperature is normally around 101F, after a long day of working, a temperature that is around 104F would still be considered normal. You would need to monitor the body temperature as the horse cools down to ensure that it is the work and not an infection that has boosted the horse’s temperature.
Stress, excitement, and even warm weather will influence the body temperature of the horse.
Any unusual body temperature ready should be communicated to your veterinarian for evaluation. If you are just starting to get to know the vital signs of a horse, a body temperature reading of 102F or higher should be communicated to your veterinarian to ensure the horse is properly evaluated.
Make sure they always have access to clean, open water. Free choice access to hay is also recommended, this will help to keep your horse’s body temperature up & aid in having a happy, healthy digestive tract & good body condition. #JFMEquine pic.twitter.com/Tq8uHCGvBd— Jones Feed Mills Ltd (@Jones_Feed) November 21, 2017
How Do I Take the Temperature of a Horse?
The best way to take the body temperature of a horse is to use a rectal thermometer. It is important to tie a string to the end of the thermometer if one isn’t present to ensure that it doesn’t get lost while taking the temperature of the horse. Retrieving a lost rectal thermometer is not something that many would describe as a fun time.
Most tack shops and some pharmacies will sell rectal thermometers for horses that are quite affordable. A plastic digital thermometer works just as well as the old-fashioned mercury-type thermometers. If you do use one of the older models, it is important to ensure the mercury is at the base level so that an accurate reading can be produced.
Make sure that the horse is tied before attempting to get a body temperature reading. It is usually easier to have someone else working with the horse, giving it attention, while you work on obtaining the vital signs. Make sure the thermometer has been lubricated properly before using it. Petroleum jelly works just fine.
Then move the tail of the horse to the side. You’ll need to make sure it is out of the way so that you can use the thermometer properly. Insert the thermometer according to the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Try to angle the thermometer so that it is slightly angled toward the ground.
Never stand directly behind a horse while taking a body temperature reading. Some horses do not like this experience and will react by kicking.
The thermometer should remain in place for 3 minutes to ensure accuracy. Some digital thermometers, however, may be able to provide an accurate reading in 60 seconds or less.
Once you’ve obtained the body temperature reading, be sure to thoroughly clean the thermometer before returning it to its storage container. A good cleaning will help to prevent an illness from spreading to the other horses in your care.
Other Vital Signs to Take When Caring for Horses
Once you’ve obtained the body temperature, there are some other vital signs that you’ll want to check to ensure the horse is at optimal health.
Pulse Rate: A horse at rest should have a pulse rate of 40 beats per minute or less. Anything above this rate for an adult horse can indicate stress or excitement. Foals may have a pulse rate of up to 120 beats per minute. Yearlings can be up to 60 beats per minute. A 2-year-old horse usually has a pulse rate between 40-50 beats per minute. The pulse can be found near the front of the left jawbone. Press firmly with your forefinger.
Respiration: The average adult horse, while resting, should have an average of 11.5 breaths per minute. The normal range for this vital sign is between 8-15 breaths per minute. Make sure a full intake and release is counted as one breath instead of two. Rapid breathing can indicate the presence of an infection, colic, or another health condition.
Intestinal Sounds: You want to hear gut sounds coming from a horse. A lack of sounds can indicate the presence of a digestive tract problem, such as colic. Certain types of colic can also produce an excessive amount of gut noise. Use a stethoscope to listen for these sounds and report anything that seems unusual immediately. The best place to listen is right behind the last rib.
Water Consumption: A healthy horse may consume upwards of 5 gallons of clean, fresh water during a day. Urging a horse to drink more water if they don’t reach the 5-gallon threshold is important. If the horse won’t drink the water, try adding a little apple juice or a sports beverage into it to encourage fluid intake. A horse refusing to drink should be considered a health emergency. You can check for dehydration by pinching the hide of the horse near the neck. If it doesn’t flatten back into place immediately, the horse is dehydrated.
Mucous Membranes: Checking the gums, eyelids, and inside the nostrils can determine if the horse is experiencing good blood circulation. The gums should be somewhat pale when healthy. If they are bright red, blue, or yellow, a veterinarian needs to examine the horse immediately. The same is true for the colors of the mucus membranes in the other areas of the body as well. You can also check circulation levels by checking to see how long it takes for blood to return to blanched tissues. Anything longer than 2 seconds can indicate a medical emergency.
By checking to see if a horse has a normal body temperature, you are being proactive about their health. Check the other vitals as well each week and any time you have a concern over the health of the horse and you’ll be able to care for the animal properly.