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Learn How to Take Vital Signs of Horses

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Every horse owner should know how to take vital signs on a horse. Learn what a horse’s temperature, respiration, heart rate and capillary refill time is, and what “normal” reading are. The easiest way to do this is to take all four vital signs at least three times and come up with an average. Get familiar with how to take these measurements, so that in case of emergency you’ll know exactly what to do.

 How To Take Vital Signs

  • Temperature – a horse’s normal temperature is around 99-101 Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The temperature is taken by inserting a thermometer in the rectum.  First clean the thermometer with alcohol,  then dip it in a little Vaseline to make things easier. If using an analog thermometer, wait two minutes to get an accurate reading. Digital thermometers usually take much less time. Temperatures can vary slightly from horse to horse as well as from thermometer to thermometer. If possible, take your horse’s temperature with both an analog and digital thermometer for a healthy baseline reading on both.
  • Respiration – A normal horse at rest takes between 8 and 10 breaths per minute. To count respirations, watch either his flanks move in and out or his nostrils flaring. Count either his inhalation or exhalation, but be sure not to count both!
  • Pulse – A normal horse’s resting heart rate is between 36 – 40 beats per minute. You can use a stethoscope placed just behind his left elbow to hear his heartbeats. You can also feel for his pulse by pressing against the large artery under his jaw. You can also feel his pulse in his fetlock joint. Be aware that, if his illness has to do with his hooves, such as laminitis or “founder,” the pulse there may be elevated anyway.
  • Capillary Refill Time – Lift up your horse’s upper lip and press your finger into his gums until you make a white spot. Let go. It should take 2 seconds for the pink color to return. If it takes longer than that, it indicates a circulation problem. The longer it takes, the bigger the problem is.


Every horse owner needs to know what is “normal” for their horse. Knowing how your horse acts and reacts when he is feeling good will help you to faster realize when there is something “not right” with him.

Reporting all of the signs before veterinary help arrives can often give a much clearer picture on the level of concern and the response rate. Any time any of these measurements are out of the “normal” zone, keep a close eye on your horse and don’t waste any time calling the vet, if it seem appropriate. If you do need to call the vet, note down what your horse’s temperature, heart rate, etc. are, and let them know immediately.

When you’re in doubt, call the Vet. Rather error on the side of caution, than ignoring potentially serious health problems. You will save time, money and often your horse’s life if you know how to take Vital Signs of your Horse.

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