Equine Vital Signs

Equine Vital Signs

Every owner should know how to record a horse’s vital signs, what are normal levels – and not.

how to take equine vital signs (Credit: Holly Clanahan for AQHA)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Holly Clanahan

If you suspect your horse is colicking or having some other sort of health issue, of course, you’ll make a phone call to your veterinarian. But don’t be surprised if some of his or her first questions involve your horse’s vital signs. It’s important, too, that you’ve practiced taking vital signs before a health crisis hits. That way, you’re comfortable with the techniques and you have a baseline for what’s normal for your horse. 

The following are some equine vital sign tips from Dr. Chad Zubrod of Oakridge Equine Hospital in Edmond, Oklahoma, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, an AQHA alliance partner. 


A horse’s normal temperature range is 99.5 to 101.5 F. To safely take a horse’s rectal temperature, Dr. Zubrod advises the following:

  1. Stand at the horse’s side at their hindquarters.

  2. Use one hand to hold their tail aside and the other to hold the thermometer.

  3. It is suggested to use a plastic digital thermometer for safety and efficiency.

  4. Caution: If your horse’s temperature exceeds 102.5 F, contact your veterinarian immediately.


A horse’s normal pulse range is 30 to 42 beats per minute. 

  1. Use a stethoscope behind a horse’s left elbow.

  2. Find the lub-dub (counts for one beat).

  3. Time yourself for 15 seconds and count the beats.

  4. Multiply that number of heart beats by four to get the beats per minute.

  5. Caution: A resting heart rate higher than 64 beats per minute signifies pain and possibly a more serious problem. 

If you don’t have a stethoscope, you can press your index or middle finger on the large artery that runs along the inside of the horse’s jaw, as shown in the top-most photo.


A horse’s normal respiration range is 12 to 20 breaths per minute. To calculate a horse’s respiration rate, simply watch his chest. One inhalation counts as one breath. 

Gut Sounds

Normal gurgling or tinkling sounds of digestion can be heard by stethoscope:

  • Between the top of the hindquarters and belly.

  • At the back of the bottom of the belly.

Listen to both areas on either side of the horse. If you don’t hear sounds after several seconds, this could indicate colic

Capillary Refill Time

A horse’s normal capillary refill time is two seconds. Press on your horse’s gums above his teeth and see how long it takes for the color to return after your take your finger off the gum. A longer capillary refill time may indicate circulatory problems. The color of the gums is important, too. Pink is healthy, while red, pale or purplish gums could be problematic.

The Pinch Test

Pinch a fold of neck skin and release it. It should immediately snap back into place, but if it remains “tented,” that’s evidence of dehydration.


About Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA 
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health is working on first-in-class innovation for the prediction, prevention, and treatment of diseases in animals. For veterinarians, pet owners, producers, and governments in more than 150 countries, we offer a large and innovative portfolio of products and services to improve the health and well-being of companion animals and livestock. 
As a global leader in the animal health industry and as part of the family-owned Boehringer Ingelheim, we take a long-term perspective. The lives of animals and humans are interconnected in deep and complex ways. We know that when animals are healthy, humans are healthier too. By using the synergies between our Animal Health and Human Pharma businesses and by delivering value through innovation, we enhance the health and well-being of both.  

Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health has deep roots in the U.S. From a start in St. Joseph, Missouri, more than 100 years ago, it has grown to encompass seven sites. Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health’s portfolio contains widely used and well-respected vaccines, parasite-control products and therapeutics for pets, horses and livestock including NexGard, Heartgard, Pyramid Presponse, VAXXITEK, CircoFLEX® and Prascend®. 
Learn more about Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health USA at bi-animalhealth.com.