Normal Ranges of Vital Signs
It is important to know how to take the vital signs of a horse as a routine indication of general health. It is advisable to record the vital signs on your first visit with a new client so that you know what the normal ranges for that horse are. We will practice taking the vital statistics during the hands-on practicum at the end of your distance learning experience.
The body temperature is a strong indicator of the internal health of the body. Temperature is measured in degrees (Fahrenheit or Celsius, depending on the thermometer).
The body regulates core temperature as part of its quest for homeostasis (a balance between all the systems of the body). Whenever the body is assaulted by infection or stress, the temperature can rise rapidly. When a traumatic incident such as overexposure or severe blood loss occurs, the temperature can drop suddenly. The body will struggle to reestablish a normal core temperature. A failure to regain normal body temperature can be fatal.
Temperature is also affected by activity and environment. Age can also play a factor. It is important to know what the normal temperature is for an animal so that any deviation can be readily recognized.
How to Take a Temperature
In order to take the temperature, the thermometer must be inserted into the rectum approximately two inches. You may use either a digital thermometer or the more traditional glass thermometer. (Digital is preferred for safety reasons and also because it is faster and easier to read). In either case, some form of lubricant (petroleum jelly or KY) should be applied to the thermometer before insertion. It is wise to keep one hand on the thermometer while you wait (1 minute for digital, up to three minutes for glass thermometers). Some people tie a string to the thermometer with a clip at the opposite end and clip it to the horse’s tail. This is handy in case the horse tries to suck the thermometer up into the anus, at least this way you can get it back.
- The range for a normal temperature can be between 99º – 101.5º Fahrenheit.
- A horse’s temperature can vary 2 degrees from early morning to mid afternoon so it is a good idea to note the time of day the temperature was taken as a reference point.
- Younger horses will tend to have higher temperatures.
- And recent activity/exercise will result in a higher temperature of up to 106º (F).
Again, knowing what is normal for your horse or your client is valuable so that in case of an emergency, you can estimate just how high or low the horse’s temperature really is.
The most common conditions causing a higher than normal temperature include:
- Heat stroke (hyperthermia)
- Infection resulting in fever
- Exercise/muscle exertion
The most common conditions resulting in lower than normal temperatures include overexposure to cold (hypothermia) and shock.