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Basic Equine Information
As a horse owner, it is very important to be armed with basic information about your horse, especially when you are contacting your veterinarian in an emergency. Especially important information are your horses “vital signs”. The most basic list of vital signs are: Temperature, Pulse/Heart Rate and Respiratory Rate.
· Temperature: Normal horses rectal temperature varies from about 98-101 F. However, on a very hot day it can be perfectly normal for a horse to have a 101 F temperature due to ambient heat. Exercise can also raise your horses temperature above “normal”. A temperature above 101.5 is a reason to worry and temperatures above 102 should warrant a call to your veterinarian.
· Heart Rate: Heart rate varies considerably based upon a number of different factors. Very fit horses may have lower resting heart rates then the average horse, however most horses normal heart rate fits within the range of 32-48 per minute. Resting heart rates above 48 can be an indication of pain, and is one way of gauging the severity of colic episodes. It can also be used to gauge how a horse responds to oral treatment with anti-inflammatories. The easiest way to take a heart rate is using a stethoscope. Place the bell of the stethoscope in the left “armpit” of your horse. You should hear the “lub dub” of your horses heart beating if you have the stethoscope in the correct location. Each “lub dub” is one heart beat and the quickest way to get a relatively accurate heart rate is by counting beats for 15 seconds and multiplying that number by 4. If you do not have a stethoscope handy, the pulse rate can be taken by putting your hand along the jawbone and finding the artery the runs over the jawbone from inside to the outside aspect of the face. This artery will feel like a rubber band if you are in the correct place. It can be difficult to palpate a pulse on the jaw if you are not used to doing it.
· Respiratory Rate: Respiratory rates can also vary by the horse, however the normal range is generally considered between 8 and 16 breaths per minute. Respiratory rate can be an indicator of respiratory distress such as in cases of pneumonia, “heaves” or allergic responses.
Advanced Vital Signs
More advanced vital signs may include “gut” sounds, digital pulses, limb temperature, salivation, nasal or ocular discharges, swellings and more.
· Gut Sounds: Noises produced by the intestines can give a very simple, very low tech indication of what may be going on inside your horse’s stomach and intestines. Generally a person can hear gut sounds in the flank region, even without a stethoscope, by putting your ear up to the horse’s flank (if it is safe to be in this position). Normal gut sounds are a gurgling noise that can be heard at least several times a minute. With a stethoscope it may be possible to hear gut noises when listening to the heart or lungs! Horses may be perfectly normal and their gut sounds can’t be heard, however lack of gut sounds in conjunction with many other indicators, can be an indication of certain disease conditions. Other gut sounds that can be differentiated are: Sand (may sound like the ocean roaring onto the beach, especially when listened to at the base of the abdomen), Gas and liquid (Can be an indicator of the potential for development of diarrhea).
· Digital Pulses: A pair of arteries run over the back of the fetlock on either side of each leg. If you can feel a “bounding” pulse in these arteries it may be time to call your veterinarian as this can indicate a number of serious conditions.
· Limb Temperature: The temperature of your horses leg can be indicative of a number of conditions. On a normal horse it is generally normal to have a slightly decreasing temperature in the limb as one moves their hand down the leg. Increased heat over certain areas can be indications of infection, laminitis, abscess or other conditions depending on the location.
· Ocular Discharge: Discharge from the eye can be an indicator of a number of different things. Normal horses may have some measure of “tearing” or slight amount of “gubers” around the eye. These can be perfectly normal for your horse and may indicate minor irritation by wind or sun. Significant quantities of tearing as well as blinking and holding the eye shut can indicate pain associated with the eye. Thick ocular discharge may indicate serious infection of the eye or associated structures. The eye is a very delicate structure and ANY significant change warrants a call to your veterinarian.
· Nasal Discharge: Discharge from the nose can be indicative of many conditions ranging from pneumonia to sinus infection or even the possibility of an infected tooth.