Three standard indicators of a horse’s health are temperature,
pulse rate and respiration. These can be used not only to
determine if your horse is ill but also can indicate the type
The normal temperature for a horse is about 38C (100.5F).
Individual horses may vary half a degree either side of this,
so you may want to take your horse’s temperature when it is
healthy so you know what its healthy temperature is exactly.
There can also be a variation of up to half a degree due to
time of day and activity. Variations of more than one degree
indicate a problem, which should be treated accordingly..
An elevated (abnormally high) temperature usually indicates
that the horse has an infection. In such cases, keeping the
horse warm and comfortable is important. In particular, one
should protect it from being chilled by cold, wet or windy
weather. The higher the temperature is, the more serious the
condition, and the more likely that veterinary assistance
or antibiotics may be required.
A depressed (abnormally low) temperature is unusual, but
can occur in cold weather (especially if it is wet or windy)
if the horse is unable to maintain its temperature. Horses
which are old, sick or weak can be chilled easier and faster
in cold conditions. A drop in temperature should be taken
seriously as even small changes can easily result in secondary
issues such as colic, or even be fatal. The horse should be
moved to shelter and covered with a warming rug. If you have
mash, mixing a small quantity with some warm water (but not
hot!) and feeding it to the horse can help it warm up, partly
due to the warming effect of the water and partly from the
quick energy of the mash. The horse should be closely monitored
until it warms up and fully recovers. To prevent a reoccurence,
one should ensure that the horse has adequate shelter from
the weather, consider using a horse rug on colder days (especially
if wet or windy) and consider giving it a quantity of high
energy food (such as mash or grain) during cold periods (note
that any dietary changes should first be discussed with a
veterinarian to avoid potential dietary related problems such
If a horse shows signs of illness or abnormal behavior, but
does not have a temperature, the problem is probably not infection
related. In other words, it could be an injury or a non infection
illness such as colic or laminitis. Consequently, even a normal
temperature is is useful diagnostic tool, as it helps to eliminate
infections (e.g. strangles) as possible causes of the problem
If you are not experienced in taking a horse’s temperature,
you should first do this with an experienced person, to minimize
risk of injury to yourself or the horse. Some tips:
An electronic thermometer is better than a glass thermometer,
as it is faster and does not have the risk of breaking and
associated injury. If you only have mercury thermometer available,
first shake the mercury below 37.4 and take care that it does
not break when inserting into or removing from the horse.
If possible, have someone at the head end to distract the
horse with a bit of food. If working on your own, consider
first tying up the horse to minimize movement or risk of it
running off. Put some lubricant on the bulb end of the thermometer
to make insertion in the rectum easier. Raise the tail with
your left hand and insert the bulb into the rectum with your
right (if you are left handed, hold tail with right and insert
with left). With mercury thermometers one needs to wait about
half a minute and not remove until the mercury stops moving.
With electric thermometers readings are normally quicker and
depending on type it may beep to tell you that the reading
is complete. Horses can be startled by this procedure and
may kick, so one should watch and be careful of the horse.
Standing slightly to one side rather than directly behind
the horse is a safer position. Make sure that you hold onto
the thermometer firmly, as otherwise movement of the sphincter
muscle could draw the thermometer inside the horse. Wash the
thermometer and if possible wipe it with alcohol (or appropriate
disinfectant) to sterilize it before putting it away.
A horse’s pulse rate should be taken when it is resting,
as the pulse rate during exercise or shortly thereafter is
not a good indication (unless one is using pulse recovery
rates and maximum pulse rates as part of a fitness evaluation).
The normal pulse rate for a horse is depends on various factors
such as breed (e.g. ponies tend to be faster), age and physical
fitness. Consequently, it is wise to take your horse’s pulse
rate when it is well and write this down, so that you know
the normal pulse rate of your horse. Then, if you suspect
illness, you will know the normal pulse of your horse which
you can test against. If you don’t know your horse’s normal
pulse rate, consider the range of 36 42 beats per minute as
To take the pulse, gently press your fingers against an artery
and count the number of beats. You will need a watch with
a second hand to measure the time. The easiest places to feel
the pulse are:
Under the top of the lower jaw, gently pressing the artery
against the underlying bone On the horse’s cheek, just above
and behind the eye The inside of a foreleg, level with the
knee, where the artery runs over the bone.
One can also use a stethoscope, pressed gently against an
artery, to listen for the pulse rather than using one’s fingers
to feel for it.
An elevated pulse rate can be associated with illness or
pain (as well as exercise or fear). A high pulse rate combined
with a normal temperature indicates a non infection illness.
A high pulse rate combined with a high respiration rate but
a normal temperature is often associated with pain.
The resting respiration rate of an adult horse is 8 15 times
per minute. This is a wide range as the normal respiration
rate for an individual horse is dependent on its breed, age
and general condition. Consequently, it is wise to take your
horse’s respiration rate when it is well and write this down,
so that you know the normal respiration of your horse, which
you can then test against if at a later date you suspect illness.
The easiest way to measure a horse’s respiration is to stand
behind it and watch its flanks, while timing with a watch.
You may need to first move the horse into an area where it
is quiet and away from other horses, as excitement or sniffing
can make an accurate count difficult. Likewise, on a hot day
you may need to move it out of the sun, as a hot horse breaths
An elevated respiration can be associated with illness or
pain (as well as exercise or fear). A high rate combined with
a normal temperature indicates a non infection illness. A
high respiration rate combined with a high pulse rate but
a normal temperature is often associated with pain.
Author Resource:-> Doug Stewart is the main writer on
horse care at http://wowhorses.com/horse-care.html,