Recognising a Sick Horse

A sound understanding of your horse’s vital signs can be used to determine the current state of health and fitness. Awareness of your horse’s vital signs will enable you to differentiate between what is considered ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ for your horse. The can also help provide your vet with vital information about the severity of your horses sickness.

The vital signs outlined in this article will enable you to perform a physical examination that can be used to assess any changes in your horse’s demeanour, body temperature, and hydration, respiratory and cardiovascular health.

Recognising a sick horse through Vital Signs:

Temperature: Normal Range 37-38C

Pulse: Normal Range 25-42 Beats per minute

Respiration: 10-20 breaths per minute

Mucous Membranes: Pale Pink

Capillary Refill Time: < 2 seconds

Gut Motility: Should sound like a regular gentle washing machine

Digital Pulses: Should not be “bounding.”

Skin: Should bounce back when “tented.”


Other Signs to monitor:

Attitude: Is your horse abnormally irritable or aggressive or is your horse showing signs of depression.

Eating and Drinking: The average 500Kg horse should drink 12-40L per day.

Fecal and Urine output: When was the last time you saw your horse urinate or poo? How many poos have they done in a 24 hour period?

Gait: Is your horse moving freely in the walk and trot are there any visible signs lameness?

Top Tip: Always have easy access to your veterinarian’s numbers and a backup for emergencies. Know where your nearest specialist centre is located.


Contact a Veterinarian Immediately for:

  • Choke
  • Colic
  • Collapse
  • Eye Trauma
  • Prolonged or Difficult Foaling
  • Major Wounds (lacerated arteries, joints, body cavity, exposed bone)
  • Profuse Haemorrhage (nasal, castration site)
  • Respiratory Distress
  • Road & Traffic Accidents
  • Severe Lameness (“three legged”)

Top Tip: Have a first aid kit in an easily accessible location and make sure it is always kept stocked and ready. Discard items when they expire and replace with new ones.


What should I included in my First Aid Kit?

  • Thermometer
  • Stethoscope
  • Scissors
  • Haemostats
  • Hoof Pick
  • Wire cutters
  • Chlorhexidine Scrub
  • Iodine Solution – for rinsing eyes and mucous membranes
  • Alcohol and Swabs
  • Antiseptic Ointment/Powder
  • Sterile Water or Saline
  • Syringes and Needles (60ml and 18g)
  • Non stick primary wound dressings
  • Gauze Bandage or Soft Conforming Bandage (Soffban)
  • Cotton Wool or Combine
  • Elastic Bandage (vetrap, elastoplast, crepe)
  • Feminine Hygiene products (great primary dressings and puncture wounds)
  • Nappies (best foot bandages!)
  • Duct Tape
  • Sterile Gloves
  • Virkon– DPI approved for Hendra and Equine Influenza
  • Clean Towels
  • Electrolytes (paste or powder) Such as Salkavite or Electro Paste
  • Flash Light/Batteries
  • White Healer
  • Yellow Lotion

Keep in an airtight container such as a 20Kg bucket with lid.

First Aid Tips:

  • Always know your horse’s normal vital signs.
  • Put pressure on bleeding wounds for at least 5 minutes.
  • Always consult your veterinarian before giving your horse any medications.
  • Always make sure your horse’s vaccinations are kept up to date especially tetanus.
  • For hyperthermia use cool not cold water and always scrape off excess water.
  • Make changes to diets gradually and with the permission of a nutritionist to prevent digestive upsets.
  • Try not to move a horse that is “tied up”.

We always recommend calling your veterinarian as a first point of call if you are ever uncertain about the health of your horse.


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Every product in the Ranvet range has been developed to meet a horse’s most specific need at any given time, be it in a training environment or on a breeding farm. Having pioneered the formulation of specific medications and dietary supplements for horses, the company is now recognised as a leader in the areas of equine health and nutrition.

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