What are the normal vital signs for an adult horse?

Temperature:   99-101.0
Pulse/Hear Rate:   32-44 beats per minute
Respiratory Rate:   8-16 breathes per minute at rest
Capillary Refill Time:   Less than 2 seconds
Mucous Membranes:   Pale pink

Before assessing your horse’s vital signs, it is important to establish normal behavior for your horse.  Spend time observing your horse so that even subtle changes will be easily spotted.  Become familiar with the following:

  • Regular breathing/perspiration rate
  • Resting and sleeping behavior
  • Weight loss or loss of condition
  • Weight gain or decrease in activity
  • Change in haircoat not due to season
  • Changes in manure, urine spots, bedding, feed bucket, or quantity of hay eaten
  • Water supply   container full or empty

Ask your veterinarian to show you how to properly measure your horse’s rectal temperature, pulse rate, and respiratory rate, capillary refill time, and mucous membranes.  In the event of an illness or emergency situation, this information along with your daily observations will enable you to give your veterinarian a more complete medical history.

I'm having trouble giving my horse its oral medication. Any suggestions?

The most important part of any medicinal treatment is ensuring that your horse is given the total dose of prescribed medication at the right time and for the total number of days directed.  Oral medications typically come in tablet, paste, powder and granule forms.


Larger Tablets (boluses), or several small tablets (wrapped together in a small piece of paper towel) can be given using a balling gun.  Place the balling gun in the corner of your horse’s mouth, gently push the balling gun tip to the back of the tongue as you raise the horse’s head, and dispense.  Watch to see if the horse swallows the medication or if the tablets come back out of the mouth.
Many tablets are small enough to be mixed with the feed without crushing.  Larger tablets or boluses can be crushed with a mortar and pestle, or a hammer can be used to crush the tablets wrapped in a small plastic bag.  Mix the powdered tablets into the horse’s feed, as described below for powders.

Powders and Granules

Powders and granules can be mixed directly with the feed.  Molasses mixed with the feed keeps the powders and small tablets from separating out and makes the mixture more palatable.  Check the bottom of the feed bucket 15-30 minutes after feeding to make sure the entire mixture as been eaten.


Pastes are generally dispensed in a dose syringe.  Some tablets can be mixed with a small amount of water to form a paste.    When giving a paste medication, place the tip of the syringe in the corner of your horse’s mouth, elevate its head slightly, move the syringe tip back and forth about 1 inch to stimulate movement of the tongue, and inject the medication.  For horses that tend to spit out the medication, continue moving the syringe back and forth while the head is elevated.  Swallowing is less important than getting the tongue to move.  Tongue movement causes the paste to stick to the tongue and gums, ensuring that the medication will eventually be swallowed.

My horse cut his leg on a piece of wire in his stall and has a leg wound that will require bandaging. What's the proper way to apply the bandages?

Proper bandaging will not only keep the wound clean and protected, but will keep medication in contact with the wound, stop bleeding, and keep insects off the wound.  Here are a few general points to remember when applying a leg bandage.

  • Keep bandage materials clean
  • Change bandages at least daily, unless otherwise instructed.
  • Keep bandage pressure equal with each wrap around the leg (not too loose and not too tight).  When applying, push away from the tendon and pull toward the cannon bone.

In addition to bandaging over a wound, bandages may also be applied to offer support, sweat a medication or for protection during shipping.  The doctors of EVS have organized a bandaging kit that can be dispensed to our clients.  The kit provides a variety of bandaging materials for use in situations where proper bandaging may be required.  For more information on proper bandaging or to have a bandaging kit dispensed for your use, please contact our office.

I recently switched my horses feed to pellets and was warned to watch out for "choke". What should I look out for?

Choke (Esophageal Impaction) is an impaction or obstruction of the esophagus, usually caused by a bolus or lump of food.  It is not a tracheal (windpipe) obstruction, which impairs breathing.  Your horse cannot swallow but can breath normally.  A common sign of choke is food-stained saliva exiting the mouth and both nostrils.

What to do if your horse has an esophageal impaction:

  • Remove all food and water
  • Keep your horse in a stall or paddock free of any bedding, feed and water so your horse cannot eat. Any food that should slide down the open windpipe can cause aspiration pneumonia.
  • Be patient. Choke usually resolves with routine medication.  Intravenous fluids may be needed if the impaction continues to over 12 hours and dehydration becomes a problem.

Call our office immediately if:

  • Your horse has a rectal temperature of above 102 F
  • After apparent recovery, your horse refuses to eat or has difficulty swallowing

My horse has suffered from "sand colic". How can I check to see if he is eating sand?

In the sandy soil of the Desert Southwest, horses may inadvertently consume quantities of sand that settle in the ventral large intestine.  Eating of sand can cause weight loss, depression, decreased performance, diarrhea and colic.  Sand can be a contributing factor in occasional episodes of colic and can be the cause of recurrent colic pain.  Generally, horses that are enthusiastic eaters, vacuuming up every last bit of hay or grass on sandy soil, are more susceptible to the adverse effects of eating sand.

The Sand Test

  1. Fill a 2-4 quart plastic container two-thirds full with water.  Mark the water level on the outside of the container.
  2. Add 6 large fecal (manure) balls from your horse and mark the new water level on the container.

    Now you have a system to add the same amount of manure every time you do the test: fill the container with water to the first mark and add enough manure to have the water rise to the second mark.
  3. Mix the manure and water into a slurry, allowing any sand to settle to the bottom.  Gently pour off the slurry of water and manure.  Any sand will remain at the bottom.
  4. If you find   teaspoon or more sand on the bottom of the container, the test is positive.
  5. Test your horse’s manure every other day for 2 weeks and record the results.

Points to remember:

  • Do not feed any hay, grain, supplements, or other type of feed on sandy ground.
  • Feed hay on carpeting, a platform or wood shavings, in an area of at least 8 ft. by 8 ft.
  • Include a psyllium product in your horse’s feed to help coat any sand that has been ingested, reducing irritation in the intestine, and helping sand move through the intestinal tract.

I heard another horse owner saying that her horse had "tied-up". What is tying up and what can I do to prevent it?

Exertional rhabdomyolysis, also known a tying up, azoturia and Monday morning disease, is a muscular disease characterized by muscular pain and stiffness.  There are many conditions that may lead to rhabdomyolysis, but the exact cause is unknown.  The signs of rhabdomyolysis can vary from horse to horse, as from condition to condition.

Exertional rhabdomyolysis often results from an imbalance of feed and exercise.  Signs may appear before, during or after exercise.  Episodes may also occur when a horse is forced to perform beyond its ability.  Classic episodes of Monday morning disease occur when  well-conditioned working horses are rested for a day but still receive their usual ration of grain.

Clinical Signs

  • Stilted gait, reluctance or inability to move, rigid stance
  • Sweating, elevated pulse and respiratory rates
  • Urine that is reddish or darkened


  • Treatment is aimed a relieving muscle pain and preventing secondary complications, such as kidney damage
  • Affected horses should not be moved unnecessarily.  Exercise should not be resumed until signs disappear and blood enzyme levels return to normal.
  • Tranquilizers and muscle relaxants may be used to calm the horse and reduce muscle pain.
  • IV fluid therapy may be required.


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