The Stable Secretary Blog

Stable Secretary Essentials: Taking Horse Vitals

Many skills required to manage a barn can be learned on the job, but there are a few essentials every barn manager (and horse owner) should know. Understanding how to take a horse’s vitals and what’s normal for each horse in your care could mean the difference between life and death when a horse is unwell. We’ve put together a quick refresher on the normal ranges and how to check the five vital signs of adult horses. 

Every horse has a different baseline temperature that’s normal for them, although the range should be between 98-101 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing your horse’s average temperature means you can know sooner when something may be wrong. You can take a baseline reading when your horse is relaxed and has been resting for at least 30 minutes. To measure your horse’s temperature, use plastic or digital thermometers as they are harder to break than their glass alternatives. 

  1. Have someone hold your horse or tie him if you’re on your own.
  2. Stand next to your horse’s hind leg, facing his tail and be aware of his body movements to be prepared should he act out. Hold the top of his tail in one hand and raise it high enough to access the anus.
  3. Guide the end of a lubricated thermometer into the rectum, pressing it a couple of inches inside. 
  4. Gently remove the thermometer once it indicates the final reading has been taken.

An average heart rate for an adult horse is 28-48 beats per minute at rest. If you have a stethoscope, taking your horse’s heart rate can be a simple process!

  1. Stand on your horse’s left side, placing the stethoscope on the horse’s chest just under the elbow. 
  2. For 15 seconds, count the number of full beats. Each Lub-Dub sound equals one beat. Multiply the total number of full beats by four.

Tip: You can also take your horse’s pulse using the facial artery along the lower border of the jawbone, at the transverse facial artery near the eye, the radial artery at the back of the front knee, and the digital artery below the fetlock on the inside ankle.

How to Determine Capillary Refill Time

Capillary refill time can tell you if your horse is dehydrated or undergoing certain types of shock. You can determine capillary refill time by lifting a horse’s lip, pressing a finger firmly to the gums, then taking it away and counting the seconds until the color returns to normal. A typical capillary refill time is two seconds.

There are a few ways to find your horse’s respiratory rate (breaths per minute). A regular respiratory rate for an adult horse at rest is 8-12 breaths per minute. You can choose to either watch the horse’s nostrils flare, watch the rise and fall of the rib cage, or listen to the lungs with a stethoscope. If using a stethoscope, press it to the base of the neck as close to the trachea as possible, count the number of breaths taken in 15 seconds, then multiply that number by 4.

Gut sounds aren’t always listed in a vitals checklist, but they can be highly telling when your horse seems off. Place your stethoscope on each side of your horse’s abdomen, above and below the flank. You should hear various sounds, including gurgling, rumbling, etc. If there are no gut sounds, you should reach out to your veterinarian right away. 

As a barn manager or horse owner, it’s essential to know the baseline of all vitals for every horse in your care, so you know when to call the vet when vitals are out of the normal range. Stable Secretary makes tracking vitals simple with their new vitals and diagnostic health categories and the ability to update individual horse records directly from the app on your phone!

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