Equine Vital Signs of Life

Temperature, pulse, and respiration are three vital signs to know how to check if you own or ride horses.
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Equine Vital Signs of Life
As you push on a horse's gums, you are pushing aside blood in that location; the membranes should 'pink up' again as blood refills within one to two seconds. This is referred to as the capillary refill time (CRT). | Photo: Alexandra Beckstett/The Horse

Temperature, pulse, and respiration (TPR) are the three important vital signs you must know how to check if you own or ride horses, especially during an emergency situation. Previously, Doug Byars, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (internal medicine), ACVECC (emergency and critical care), showed us four ways you can take a horse’s pulse. He rejoins us to discuss how to monitor a horse’s temperature and respiratory rates, as well as capillary refill time.


A fever or subnormal temperature in a horse can be one of the first signs of a problem. A horse’s normal temperature ranges between 99°F and 101°F. This range can vary from horse to horse and, Byars says, can be influenced by exercise or the environment. However, a temperature greater than 102°F in an adult horse at rest can be a cause for alarm and could mean there is an infection or other ailment affecting the horse.

Foals are a little different in that a low temperature is more often an indication of a problem. “A foal or neonate will often have a lower-than-normal temperature rather than a fever when they have an infection,” Byars says

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Written by:

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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