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How to Take Equine Vital Signs

Your horse, or any horse in your care, relies on you to help him in the event of an illness. Knowing how to perform a few simple tests to determine your horse’s vital signs, and knowing your horse’s normal rates, will help you make a prompt and accurate assessment of his condition should you suspect that he’s sick. This information will be useful if you need to discuss the situation with a veterinarian too.

Ranges of horse vital signs are considered normal for various horses. What would be a high temperature in one horse is normal in another. The best way to determine a horse’s normal vital signs is to test him at different times of day and on different days for about a week, remembering that temperature, pulse and respiratory rates will be higher just after exercise or excitement. Chart the readings you take until you notice a satisfactory, repeated value.

Once you’ve determined the normal vital signs for your horse, you’ll be able to check for those values when you suspect an illness or other physical distress in the horse. You may wish to maintain this information within your medical kit, on a card on your horse’s stall or in a conveniently located medical file. To help you create a medical file, a printable Routine Equine Medical Record is available for your use.

You’ll also want to monitor the color, consistency and usual amount of output of your horse’s manure and urine. This information can provide useful clues about your horse if he becomes ill. If any of these signs ever seem abnormal, you should contact your veterinarian.

Normal Ranges of Equine Vital Signs

Temperature: 99.5 - 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit

Pulse: Adult horses: 32 - 44 beats per minute

Respiration: 8 - 16 breaths per minute

Gut sounds: Should be present

Capillary Refill Time: 2 seconds

Mucous Membranes: Moist and bubble gum pink


The normal range for a horse’s temperature is 99.5 to 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. If you find a temperature of 102.5 degrees or higher in any horse, contact a veterinarian.

You can use a veterinary horse thermometer with a string and clip attached to the end or a digital thermometer. The alligator clip tied to the end of a veterinary thermometer enables you to clip it to the horse’s tail, freeing you to check other vital signs while the temperature is taken.

Take a horse’s temperature rectally. If you’re using a veterinary thermometer, shake it down to below 95 degrees before use. Lubricate the end of the thermometer with petroleum jelly, and angle the thermometer very slightly downward on insertion. It is always best to observe an experienced person taking a temperature before you attempt to do so yourself. Leave a veterinary thermometer in place for two minutes to obtain an accurate reading.

If you’re using a digital thermometer that doesn’t have a string and clip attached, be sure to hold onto the thermometer while standing carefully to the side of the horse’s buttocks. A digital thermometer will beep to signify when the temperature reading is ready.

Note: Clean the thermometer thoroughly with rubbing alcohol after use.

Stand to the side of your horse’s buttock while taking the temperature

Pulse or Heart Rate:

The pulse or heart rate for a horse ranges from 32 to 44 beats per minute. Pulse rate naturally increases during physical exertion, but a high pulse in a horse that is at rest indicates that he may be in some sort of pain or physical distress.

You can take a horse's pulse either by feeling for it or listening to the heartbeats with a stethoscope. To take the pulse by feel, you can try various places on the horse. Sometimes you can feel it with the back of your hand pressed against the horse’s heart girth on the left side.

You can feel for certain arteries that are close to the skin: the facial artery under the horse's left jawbone, the artery under the tail on either side of the dock, or at the outside of the horse's foot, just above the fetlock.

To feel for the facial artery, press two or three fingers under the round part of the jawbone on the left side of the face. The artery crosses the jawbone at about the middle point, and feels like a thin rope situated just toward the inside. You may have an easier time finding it by gently pressing the fleshy parts under the jaw against the inside of the jawbone.

Look at a watch and count the heartbeats for 10 seconds, then multiply the number of beats by six to determine total beats per minute. (If it is easier for you, count for 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by four.)

Note: Do not take the pulse using your thumb, as you may feel your own pulse instead of the horse's.

To use a stethoscope, place it just behind the horse’s left elbow and count each thump-thump as one heartbeat. Again, look at a watch and count the heartbeats for 10 seconds, then multiply the number of beats by six to determine total beats per minute. (If it is easier for you, count for 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by four.)

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