How to Check Vital Signs

When you suspect colic, you'll need to be able to give your horse's vital signs to your vet. We'll tell you how to gather this vital information.

Determining your horse’s vital signs will help you and your vet gauge your horse’s health. |

When you suspect colic and call your vet, she’ll need to know your horse’s vital signs. Here’s how you get accurate readings for temperature, pulse and gut sounds.

How to take your horse’s temperature:
Use a glass or electronic rectal thermometer (available at tack/feed stores, and through veterinary-supply catalogs). If you use a glass one, tie a string with a clip on the end to the thermometer’s end loop. Shake down a glass thermometer; activate an electronic one. Lubricate the tip with a dab of K-Y or petroleum jelly.

Tie your horse and gently insert the thermometer into his anus the depth of about two inches. Clip a glass thermometer to his tail for security. Hold the thermometer in place. Wait about two minutes for a glass thermometer to register; 30 seconds for an electric one (listen for the beep). Remove the thermometer and record your reading. His normal temperature range is between 99 and 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

How to take your horse’s pulse:
Place your horse’s left front foot forward (if he’s standing). Place the head of the stethoscope against his chest wall, just beneath the left elbow, then push the scope as far forward under the elbow as possible. Listen for the “lub-dub” sound of his heartbeat. Count the number of beats in a 15-second period, and multiply that number by four to determine his beats-per-minute (bpm). An average resting heart rate is between 30 and 40 bpm.

How to listen for gut sounds:
Hold a stethoscope against your horse’s lower flank for at least one minute. Move the stethoscope higher on his flank and listen again. Move to his other flank and repeat. Normally you’ll hear two to four soft bubbles/gurgles per minute, and one loud grumbling sound every two to three minutes. If his gut sounds are louder and/or more frequent, he may be experiencing mild colic. If you hear nothing (and your stethoscope is working) he may be experiencing severe colic. Silence indicates no gut movement.

H&R Contributing Editor Karen E. N. Hayes is an Idaho-based equine practitioner with a large performance-horse patient base.

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