“Doc, my horse just ain’t right.” This is a statement that I often hear from clients on after hour emergency calls. Many can tell me that their horse does not want to eat or drink, they are pawing or rolling, they may also be sweating or have muscle tremors. Some tell me they have been watching their horse not been normal for at least a day or so but now it has become worse. However, many horse owners do not know how to do a basic physical exam.
A basic physical exam includes a temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, assessing the mucus membranes, capillary refill time and intestinal sounds. In my physical exams, I also use a weight tape to monitor the weight of my patients.
Normal Vital Signs:
1) Temperature: Adult Horse 98.5-100.9F, Foal 99-101.9F
You can use a digital thermometer or a 6-inch veterinary thermometer with a 12-inch string that can clip to the tail. Veterinary thermometers need to be shaken down before use. Lubricate the tip of the thermometer with Vaseline, etc. and insert into the rectum while standing off to the side not to get kicked.
2) Heart Rate or Pulse: 36-48 beats per minute
Using a stethoscope listen on the left side of the horse just behind the elbow. Listening for a lub-dub sound is considered one beat. Two common places to take a pulse are the mandibular artery inside the jawline in front of the throatlatch area and the palmer digital artery on the pastern between the coronary band and the fetlock. Count for 15 seconds, then multiply by 4.
3) Respiratory Rate: 10-24 breaths per minute
Watch or feel the ribs move in and out. Count for 15 seconds, then multiply by 4.
4) Mucus Membranes & Capillary Refill Time: Mucus membranes (the gums are most commonly used) should be pink in color and moist to the touch. Using a finger to press on the gums, count the number of seconds it takes for the blood to return to the blanched tissue. Capillary refill time above 2 seconds is considered delayed.
5) Skin Tent: 6) Intestinal sounds: There are 4 quadrants that we listen for gastrointestinal sounds. Listen for 2-5 sounds per minute on the dorsal and ventral abdomen on both sides of the horse.
7) Weight: Weight tapes are not 100% accurate, but they can be used as a basic indicator of weight gain or loss over time. They help owners and veterinarians, track the progress of weight gain or weight loss programs when large weight scales are not available.
Basic physical exams are quick and easy. They can be used to assess your horse to catch illness early and reduce costly veterinary visits.