Friday, November 30, 2012

Vital Signs

Ok, here's something I KNOW we're all guilty of...or at least 80% of me.

When's the last time you checked your horse's vital signs? Ever? Do you know what their "normal" is? I don't. I only know what I've read and what's normal by the book...

Let's fix that RIGHT NOW.

It's rainy here again, and will be for the entire weekend, or so says my iPhone. (Known to be wrong ALL the time, but we'll go with it for the purposes of this post).  Either way, this is a perfect time to get yourself and your horse familiar with the most important facts every rider should know about their horse (YES, even more important than where they like to be scratched, or what their favorite treat is...). Also, some of these have come in handy since Hatchet has been on-and-off again sick these days. (He's ok now :))

What the hay is this picture?? ...Get it?

Photo Credit: 
First off, let's do a run through of what's NORMAL, according to the "books". My books happen to be the internet. Various vet websites...This is also what I grew up knowing. There you have it! Common knowledge!  Just had to check my facts before I went nuts and blogged about know.

Temperature: Normal body temperature is between 99-101 F.
Pulse: Normal pulse is 36-42 beats per minute
Respiration: 10-24 breaths per minute
Mucous Membranes (Gums): Moist, healthy pink
Capillary Refill Time: 2 seconds or less

Say WHAT??  Let's dig deeper.

Temperature is allowed to vary by about 3 degrees from that norm up there. This can be from any number of environmental factors, stress, excitement, exercise - all that stuff.  Anything outside of that variation, and you've got trouble. Getting to know your horse's normal temperature could save you a lot of panic and silly vet bills down the road. (I'm a panicker, but I try not to be.)
Do everyone a favor, and clean it before you put it back in there...

Photo Credit:
The best way to take a horse's temperature, unfortunately, is rectally. FUN!  The best way I've found, is to have a digital thermometer (More accurate than mercury - no human read error) that's all your own, and attach a string and a hair clip (The claw kind) to the end of it.  Slick up the end of that thermometer, either with some good old fashioned spit, or vaseline, if you're classier, and ease it in, clipping the string and hair clip to their tail. You don't even want to know what happens if that thermometer disappears.  Keep in mind, it's awkward for everybody, and some horses don't like it. Most don't mind...but be smart about it, and have someone help you or distract your horse for you if need be.  Be patient, and don't remove it early! You'll get the best read if you let it sit!

Pulse Rate:
Horses that are very much in shape can have rates as low as 28 or so, and this is not considered abnormal, but if you've got a horse that has a rate above 45-50, it should be looked at. Anything above 50-60 is pretty serious, but can be explained by an elevated temp. Anything above 80, and we've got problems...General rule of thumb, the higher the pulse rate, the more severe the condition.  That being said, keep in mind that you need to have your horse actually be at REST when you take this measurement. They should not be surprised or stressed throughout the process of taking the measurement.
Captivating photo...

Photo Credit:
To take their pulse, stand on the left side of their chest, right behind their elbow. With your handy dandy $5 stethoscope, listen to their pulse for at LEAST a minute. I always check this about 2-3 times before I stick with the results. Just to make sure I've given them a fair shake at it (Panicker, remember?)

Don't have a handy dandy stethoscope?? You can also check their pulse right near the front of their left jawbone.  Under the jawbone, there is a big ol' artery that sticks out. Using your POINTER FINGER, not your thumb, press against the artery firmly.  Since these guys tend to move their heads more than their, umm, elbows, only take the measurement for 15 seconds, and multiply to get your minute's worth.

Don't have a pointer finger?? I can't help you.  BUT, you can also check their pulse by squatting on that left side next to their fetlock joint, and rest your thumb on the outer edge of the joint.  Move your fingers around a bit to feel for the digital artery...

Can't find it?? Don't stress. If the pulse is weak or hard to find, it's most likely normal and OK.

A horse's respiration rate can increase based on a number of factors. Great, right? These can be anything from hot/humid weather, exercise, but also either pain or fever.  Of course, nervousness can also affect this measurement as well - ALL important things to remember when taking this measurement.  A below normal rate could indicate shock or hypothermia, but also could be your horse's "norm" if he is in good shape. That's vague! Perfect!

Watch or feel your horse's belly or ribcage for one minute. You can also watch him flare his nostrils with each breath, or put your hand up to feel his exhale against your palm (just don't let him sniff will mess up the reading). Whatever works for you...It's breathing.  Measure it for 30 seconds and multiply to get a minute's worth.

If you feel the need to bust out your fancy $5 stethoscope again, even if it's just to justify your purchase of it, go ahead and use it to measure their respiration rate too! Place it against his windpipe to listen to his breathing. By doing this, you can also tell if he has a blockage or anything else dangerous. You will also look super cool to everyone else at the barn at this moment.

Mucous Membranes:
The most medical way to say...Gums.  Lift up that hood (Read: Lips), and check out those gums. Here's a guide to what color they should be, and when to panic.

Moist Pink: Healthy, normal circulation
Very Pale Pink: Capillaries contracted, indicates fever, blood loss, or anemia
Bright Red: Capillaries enlarged, indicates toxicity, or mild shock
Gray or Blue: Severe shock, depression, or illness
Bright Yellow: Associated with liver problems

Just like a mood ring!

Capillary Refill Time:
While you're in there, amongst the chompers, you can check your horse's CRT.  It's a quick and easy way to check and indicate blood circulation.

Press your thumb against his gums for 2 seconds, to create a white mark.  Pull your finger away quickly, and begin to count how long it takes that white part you just made to return to the normal color it was...Ta da! Magic!  If your horse is anything like my guys, you'll need to do this a few times to get an accurate count. Hatchet is especially famous for head-banging while I try and do anything with his teeth/mouth.  If your CRT takes longer than 2-3 seconds, your horse might be in shock. Write that down.

Other important things you should know...

Gut Sounds:
My most favorite thing to do, as of late, since poor Hatchet has been suffering some gas colic here and there.  Gut sounds should ALWAYS be present in your horse. Even if he hasn't eaten in a while.  In fact, when you DON'T hear gut sounds, it is much worse than when you hear too many gut sounds (I usually cheer when THAT'S the case...). If you don't hear any gut sounds at all, call your vet, as it is indicative of colic.

To check for these gut sounds, press your ear all the way flush with his barrel, right past his rib cage, and listen for gurgling and other tummy noises in there. Very Technical.  Make sure you can hear them on both sides of the horse.  Also a great time to impress the ladies, and pull out that stethoscope! Best purchase of the day!!

I shouldn't even have to mention this one, but I will to round on this heck of an essay I've written!

Horses drink around 5+ gallons of water a day, and this is super important to their health, just as it is to ours.  If he slows down (And they CAN, right around this time of year, when it gets colder), remember to encourage them to drink, whether it's by flavoring their water (Apple juice works great), or with an electrolyte powder or pellet feed.

To check for their dehydration level, you can perform a quick pinch test. Yep, just like it sounds, you pinch a bit of skin on their neck, on the flat side - not underneath...that's just mean.  If the skin flattens, and returns to normal within 1 second, you're good to go. If it takes longer than that, you have a bit of hydration issues to deal with. Nothing we horse people can't handle, right??


Of course, these are all tips to aid our vet and their visit, or avoid a visit altogether, so make sure to have these measurements at the ready when calling in.  Also couldn't hurt to keep a general log of these values!

Leave it to me to help you get to know your horse in all kinds of new ways!!

Happy weekend!

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