Normal Healthy Horse Parameters

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One good technique of horsekeeping is the ability to monitor vital signs so you know what parameters indicate that your horse is healthy. Those healthy baseline numbers then can be compared to the vital signs when the horse is not well.

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Observe your healthy horse at rest when he’s not involved in physical activity. The following are normal vital signs; these can vary between individuals, so measure these over several days when the horse is healthy to determine your baseline.

Rectal temperature Normal for an adult horse is anything less than 101°F; for a foal, normal is less than 102°F.

General demeanor Your horse should be bright, alert and interested in his surroundings. He should be responsive to you and other stimuli and interested in food.

Heart rate Normal ranges for an adult horse are from 27-48 beats per minute (bpm) at rest.

Pulse rate Normal pulse rates should mirror heart rates.

Respiratory rate Normal in adult horses can range from eight to 20 respirations per minute. The rate depends on ambient temperature, with hotter temperatures--especially combined with high humidity--causing higher respiratory rates.

Mucous membranes The color should be pink, like what you see beneath the nail of your pinky finger. When blanched by the tip of your finger, the mucous membranes of your horse’s gums should return to normal color within two seconds. Also, the membranes should be moist.

Intestinal sounds (also called borborygmi) Gut noises should be active in all quadrants around both flanks. They will sound like what you hear when your stomach growls when you are hungry. Decreased or absent sounds are abnormal.

Digital pulses (on the back of the fetlock) These should barely be felt; if bounding (a hard beating), this usually indicates a problem.

Fecal output Most horses pass eight to 12 fecal piles per day. The manure should be well-formed (fecal balls) and moist.

Urinary output It is important to monitor signs of urination and determine what is normal for your horse. Color of normal urine is pale yellow and can be cloudy under normal circumstances, especially if the horse is fed alfalfa products.

Posture The horse should be comfortable standing on all four limbs without shifting weight or pointing a leg in front of him. He should walk off normally and be able to turn without hesitation.

You should observe these basic health parameters in all horses under your care and make a note of them in the horse’s file. Then if someone other than you is caring for that horse and thinks something is wrong, that person can pull the horse’s chart and see what is normal for that horse.

All staff members should be able to take a TPR (temperature, pulse and respiration rate). Train all workers to be observant of each horse during the day and you can catch changes quickly, which might mean avoiding costly and life-threatening problems.