Uh-oh. Ol’ Blue looks listless and isn’t interested in feed. In this scenario, knowing your horse’s normal vital signs can be critical in assessing how serious a health issue he has. Colorado veterinarian Dr. Allen Landes shares the essential vital sign information that every horse owner should know.

A horse’s normal pulse rate is 36–44 beats per minute. The easiest place to take your horse’s heart rate is the mandibular artery located just under the jaw. Curl your fingers and place them in the groove between your horse’s jaws. Pull your fingers back toward the nearest jawbone until you feel a cordlike structure roughly the thickness of a pencil. Press that slightly against the jawbone and you’ll feel a pulse beating. Count the number of beats in 15 seconds and multiply by four. Rates above 60 indicate a problem. 

Mucous membranes
The normal color of healthy gums is pink, and it should be noted if gums are a different color. Pale gums could be a sign of shock. Deep red membranes could indicate toxicity. Purple or blue gums might indicate low oxygen levers or serious toxicosis. Overly yellow gums might point to a liver problem. Also note the moisture level of the gums. They should be moist, not dry or tacky. 

Capillary refill time
After depressing the gums, the color should return within 1–2 seconds. Delayed return of color, three seconds or more, is an indication of poor blood perfusion, often brought on by serious dehydration or shock. 

Gut sounds 
A horse should have a normal gurgling sound on both sides of the abdomen back near the flanks. Sounds can be gurgles, gassy growls, tinkling noises, and the occasional roar.During colic episodes, horses with little or no gut sounds may be in serious condition. 

You should take your horse’s temperature when he’s healthy to get a normal reading. A healthy horse’s temperature ranges from 99 to 101 F. A resting temperature higher than that can indicate an infection. The most accurate way to take your horse’s temperature is rectally. Apply lubricant to the end of a digital thermometer and insert it gently into the horse’s rectum. It should beep with a reading within 60 seconds. Remember to tie a string to the end of the thermometer so it doesn’t get lost.

The normal respiration rate for horses at rest is between 18-20 breaths per minute. Deep heavy breathing, and breathing with extra abdominal effort, abnormal noise, or gasping are all indications of a very serious problem.

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