Taking a horse’s temp, pulse, and respirations


It’s important to know how your horse is on a daily basis so that you can be alerted to anything that’s “off” before you see any signs that something is wrong.  Taking ahorse’s temp and vital signs only takes a few seconds! 


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  • Your horse’s vital signs are easy to monitor throughout the day, and call your veterinarian if something is off or unusual. Without this check, perhaps your horse’s fever or pain would go unnoticed and could be much more serious.


vet listening to a horse's heart

You need to dig deep to listen to the heartbeat. Stand on your horse’s left side and place your stethoscope between his elbow and chest. Your hand may disappear!


Check your horse’s vital signs daily


  • It’s also critical to know your horse’s vitals so that in an emergency, you can inform the veterinarian what is normal vs. what is currently happening.


  • For example, you suspect colic, and your horse’s temperature is typical, but his capillary refill time is longer and his respiration is higher. Good to know, right?


  • An increase in respiration and/or heart rate, while your horse is resting, is a sign of PAIN. Your horse may be acting normal, but he hurts somewhere.


What not to do when taking your horse’s vitals


  • No need to panic if something is not normal.  That’s just your cue to research and get a broader understanding.  


  • For example – an elevated temperature could be a fever brewing, he’s in danger of overheating, or your horse just ran around like a hooligan.  The same applies to other vital signs. Figure out if your horse participated in shenanigans, or if they are truly at rest for measuring vitals. 


  • Take in your horse’s environment, too.  Have they passed typical manure and urine, in volume, location, and shape?  Is your horse drinking? What about any unusual eating patterns?


The typical horse’s vital sign values


Temperature – 99.5 to 101.5

For foals, up to 102 is normal.



Pulse (Heart Rate) – 24 to 40 beats per minute, although most horses are between 32 and 36.

For newborn foals, 80 to 100 is normal, and 60 to 80 is normal for older foals.



Respiration – 8 to 12 breaths per minute

For foals, 60-80 breaths per minute



Capillary Refill – approximately 2 seconds


How to take your horse’s temp, pulse, and respiration


  • For temperature, a good thermometer is key. Some folks like digital because it’s quick and they don’t shatter if you drop them, some folks believe they are inaccurate, especially if the battery is draining.


  • Use a bit of lubrication, like petroleum jelly, and insert it into the rectum under the tail. Be very safe and cautious the first few times doing this! Stand next to your horse, and have a helper. I like non-petroleum based lubes, like KY, but the choice is yours.


horse thermometer with attached string

Old school.


Digitial thermometer

Pick your tool! I like the digital – they are fast, but the batteries poop out eventually. See what I did there?


  • You can use a stethoscope on the left side of the chest behind the elbow to measure your horse’s heart rate. You need to really jam the end of the stethoscope into your horse’s armpit area. Your vet can guide you.


  • Count beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2.


  • You can also put your fingers across the lingual artery at the bottom of the jaw across the bone to count your horse’s pulse.


  • For respiration, watch your horse’s chest or flank area. This is literally so easy to do.


  • For the capillary refill, press your thumb firmly into the gums. Remove quickly and measure the time it takes for the white gum to return to pink.


  • When you check gums, if you find any abnormal gum colors such as shades of red, blue, or white, these are life-threatening. Call your veterinarian right away.


You also want to check your horse’s digital pulse, which alerts you to inflammation and pain in the hoof.  A handy stethoscope is also helpful for checking your horse’s gut sounds. 


How to take your horse’s temp – the details! 

How to use a stethoscope!



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