In my Healthy Horse blog back in December we looked at:
- the signs of good health,
- daily checks,
- the signs of ill health.
All of which could be observed by watching the horse and looking at his behaviour and external appearance. For a more in depth look at a horse's health you can check their Temperature, Pulse and Respiration (TPR) much as you can a human!
The 'normal' range for these indicators are:
- Temperature: 37.5°C - 38.5°C (100.5°F)
- Pulse: 36 to 42 beats per minute
- Respiration: 8 to 12 breaths per minute
It is a good idea to find out and record your horse's 'normal' for these indicators so that you can compare if you think that he is unwell! Monitor each when he is at rest, unstressed and not recently worked. It is also a good idea to do it on at least 3 different occasions (more if possible). So that you can get an average as it may alter slightly from day to day or depending on the time of day!
To take this you will need a thermometer and it is best to have a digital one as it will beep when the temperature becomes stable and it is easier to read.
As a horses temperature is taken in the rectum you will need your horse to be comfortable with you standing almost behind him. It is a good idea to take some time, even a few days, to get him used to you standing behind and lifting his tail. I would advise against this if he is a kicker! You should stand to the side but close to the hindquarters.
Ideally you will have someone to hold your horse, if not, then tie him up securely.
Lubricate the thermometer with Vaseline. I suggest wearing some surgical gloves too, which you can get quite easily now! Make sure it is switched on and registering a reading. (If the skin around his anus looks dry it may need lubricating too).
With your thermometer in hand slowly walk from the front of the horse to his hindquarters ensuring that he knows where you are. To do this talk to him but ideally gently slide your hand along his coat all the way from the neck to the tail. Grasp the top portion of his tail (the dock) where the vertebrae are and gently lift upwards and towards you.
Keeping a firm grip (if you let go the thermometer could be sucked inside the horse) insert the thermometer by gently pushing it tip first into the anus. Gently ease the thermometer further in directing it towards the side of the horse where you are standing. The thermometer needs to rest against the wall of the rectum to ensure it is not positioned inside a ball of dung which will give an incorrect reading!
Once the thermometer beeps you can slowly and gently pull it back out of the anus. Make a note of the reading.
You will then need to disinfect the thermometer before storing it. Use hot (not boiling) water and detergent, once it is clean leave it out to dry for a while.
This is in some ways easier to take than the temperature but can take a bit of practise.
You will need a watch to time how long you count for so it is great if you have a helper.
Tie your horse securely so that he stays still, this is not particularly unpleasant so your horse should not be worried by you taking his pulse.
You do this by feeling in his jaw line. Find the lower part of his mandible (see my Skeleton blog here) this is about where the throatlash of the bridle will sit. You must take a pulse using your fingers and not your thumb as your own thumb has a pulse too! Cup your hand over the bone with your thumb on the outside and your fingers tucked into the side of the dip under his head (this is between the 2 sides of the jawbone) gently feel around until you locate the pulse.
Count the pulse beats for either 60 or 30 seconds (then you will need to multiply your count by 2 to get your count per minute). Record your count.
Perhaps the easiest of the 3 indicators, this is done purely by observing your horse breathing for a minute. He will need to be standing at rest and preferably not eating as this will make it more difficult to observe.
Simply watch his ribcage and count the rises, this is easier to observe on some horses than others. You may find it easier if you stand close to his shoulder and look along his side. Record.
To check if a horse is lame you can begin with observation. It is often obvious that a horse is lame as he will not walk normally. However, to identify the leg it is sometimes necessary to 'trot up' the horse. This should be done on a flat, even surface. Although, for some more complex lameness issues a variety of surfaces will be needed.
When a lame horse is trotted up you can again observe his behaviour. If he is lame on a front leg then as the 'poorly' leg comes to the ground he will lift his head up and he will probably try to put the other leg back down as quickly as possible. If he is lame on a hind leg then it can be more difficult to identify which leg is 'poorly'. The horse may lower his head when the 'poorly' leg hits the ground as he is trying to take his weight forward and off the leg. He may also drop the hip on the 'good' side when the 'good' leg hits the ground. Also, listen for the hoof beats, they should be regular.
Once a lameness is identified it cause needs to be identified. A large percentage of lameness issues are in the foot so it makes sense to start there. Pick out the feet, ensure there are no stones or other objects. An injury may immediately be obvious. If not, scrub the foot clean so that you can observe more easily and see if there is a bruise or wound on the sole. Feel the hoof, is it warmer than the other? Feel the Fetlock, is it warmer than the other? Do this all the way up the leg.
This again is where knowing the horse is an advantage. If you know where all your horses lumps and bumps are you will quickly be able to identify any new ones that may be causing a problem. Veterinary help is often necessary and advisable with lameness issues. For example, if an abscess is missed it will become worse and the infection can enter the bone which may not be treatable!
When to call the Vet
Although calling the vet can be an expensive option, to delay could make the situation considerably worse and more expensive in the long run. Experience will change the situations in which you feel comfortable dealing with the injury but I always work on the basis that it is better to be safe than sorry. As a general guideline the vet SHOULD be called:
- If you are unsure what is wrong with the horse
- There is a rise in the horse's normal temperature with other signs of illness or distress
- There are signs of colic
- There is a wound which will need stitches
- There is arterial bleeding
- The horse is lame and the reason cannot be identified
- Medication or vaccinations are needed
- This is not an exhaustive list ....
I have blogs planned for the future covering symptoms of some of these illnesses or injuries.
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Until next time!