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Being Prepared in an Emergency

We all hope it won't ever happen, but if your horse gets injured or becomes ill, it is important that you know some things you can do to facilitate our doctors getting the best information to help them as quickly as possible. We have uploaded an Emergency Information form to our website, which you can download and keep in the barn so you can be ready for the kind of questions we may ask when you call us with an emergency.  

The first thing we may ask if for your horse's temperature, pulse and respiration. Let's take a closer look at why we want this information and how you can get it.

High body temperatures can occur when a horse has been struggling, or when s/he has an infection. Low temperatures can occur during shock or severe infections, especially in foals. Extremely hot or cold weather can also affect your horse's body temperature. We recommend you keep a digital thermometer in your barn's first aid kit. The horse's temperature is taken rectally - obviously, we want you to be very careful when you do this! Stand to the side of your horse, not directly behind, lift the tail and insert the thermometer into the anus. Some horses will react to this - try to move slowly and deliberately. Most digital thermometers beep when the body temperature is reached. When you hear that beep, remove the thermometer and jot down the number. We may ask you to take the temperature several times over a given period of time, so we have provided several spaces for that on the form.

What's normal?
A healthy adult horse's normal body temperature is
98°F - 100°F.

Hoses in pain release stress hormones that cause their hearts to beat faster. Nervous or excited horses will also have a faster than normal pulse rate. A slow pulse may be an indicator of shock. The most reliable way to obtain your horse's pulse rate is to purchase a stethoscope at a pharmacy - it doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. Place the head of the stethoscope under the horse's left elbow and move it around until you can hear the beats of the heart. Count the beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get the beats per minute (bpm).

What's Normal?
The average pulse rate for an adult horse is 44bpm, but this can range from the high 20s to the mid 40s.

The respiratory rate is obtained by watching the horse's flanks move as they breathe. Each in-and-out is counted as one breath. We do recommend counting for a full minute, as some horses breathe very slowly. Do not count the nostril flares - sometimes horses are sniffing at a smell and this can be confusing. 

What's normal?
Adult horses generally take 8 - 16 breaths per minute.

We may ask you to look at your horse's gums and let us know what color they are. This can provide us some important information about your horse's overall condition. If they are pale or white, this is an indication of blood loss, shock or pain. Bright red gums may indicate a toxic condition or exertion, while gray-blue gums may indicate shock.

What's normal?
Your horse's mucous membranes (gums) should be a nice healthy pink, and should be moist.

  • When you call us with a potential emergency, make a note of anything abnormal about your horse - you know him better than anyone! Watch his behavior and appearance. any little clue can be important, such as depression, trembling, lack of interest in food or water, or sweating.
  • Check the feed bin, water bucket and hay supply to see if he has been eating and drinking. Check for urine and feces and observe the quality and color if found. Look at the bedding to see if it looks like your horse has been thrashing.
  • If you know when the horse first became ill, make a note of the time. If not, try to remember when he last looked normal.
  • Above all, keep a cool head. Your horse is very sensitive your emotions, and if he senses that you are scared, he will become scared, too. Remaining calm will do you both a world of good.

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