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  Suggested Vaccination Schedule



Type Vaccine


Earliest Age

of Initial Vaccine

2nd Vaccine





killed bacterin toxoid

(in the muscle)

3 months

1 to 2 months

later yearly


killed virus


3 months

1 to 2 months later

 yearly, before insect season


killed virus


3 months

1 to 2 months later

every 3 months during epidemic/before shipping

Equine Distemper 

killed bacterin


3 months

1 month later

every 3 months during epidemic/before shipping


killed virus


3 months

1 time per year


Potomac Horse Fever   

killed bacterin


3 months

3 weeks later


West Nile














Equine Disease Symptoms



General Signs



Difficulty eating or walking, overreaction to noise, stiffness, elevation of the 3rd eyelid.

Not contagious; caused by punctures and wound infection


Often fatal; fever, staggering, circling, head pressing, depression and sleepiness.

Not contagious, but spread by mosquitoes.

Equine Influenza 

Rarely fatal; cough, loss of appetite, fever, depression, muscle soreness, discharge from the eyes & nose. 

Very contagious; keep affected animals isolated.


Respiratory distress; nasal discharge, cough, fever; causes abortion in pregnant mares.

Very contagious; keep affected animals isolated.


Fever, swollen jaw glands, loss of appetite, cough, nasal discharge, can cause abortion in pregnant mares.

Very contagious; keep affected animals isolated.

Potomac Horse Fever

Lethargy, anorexia, fever, colic, laminitis, colitis, and diarrhea.

Spread during insect season, vector unknown.



Horse First Aid



Parts of a Horse

Vital Signs


Quick Facts:


A horse's normal body temperature is 99 - 101 F. 

The normal pulse rate, most often taken by listening to the heart on the left side of the chest just behind the left elbow, is 36 to 42 beats per minute.
Young stock & ponies tend to be a bit faster.

The normal rate for horses is between 8-12 breaths

per minute. 
Capillary refill time

(time it takes for color to return to gum tissue adjacent to teeth after pressing and releasing with your thumb)

2 seconds.


Every horse owner needs to know what is "normal" for their horse. Knowing how

your horse acts and reacts when he is feeling good will help you to faster realize

when there is something "not right" with him. Reporting all of the signs before

veterinary help arrives can often give a much clearer picture on the level of concern

and the response rate. This page is to educate you on a horse's vital signs.

Knowing the vital signs, learning what is normal and what is not, will help you take

care of them, and aid you in knowing when to call a vet.

Below are the
normal vital signs for adult horses. If you can determine the normal

parameters of your horse that can be essential in your assessment of his health.

Even horses with what might appear to be only a mild depression may be in critical

condition.  Knowing your horses normal vital signs, and comparing those numbers

to times when one might suspect that he is ill, can be a VERY helpful aid in
determining how quickly he needs veterinarian assistance.


Whether he is interested in feed or grass or not will tell the owner very quickly if

the horse is ill. Horses are never "just not hungry."




Temperature:  Take your horse's temperature when he is healthy so you can get

a normal reading for him. The normal temperature for the horse is 100.0 degrees. 

However, a horse's temperature can vary somewhat with the season. During the
winter, it is not uncommon for the temperature to drop to as low as 97. But usually,

we are not concerned with temperature that are low, but rather, trying to determine

if he is running a fever from an infection. 

During the winter, any temperature above about 100.5 should be suspect, with

average fevers normally running from 101.5 up to 104.  The summer heat, as well

as any exercise, can often raise the core temperature upward even without a fever.

This must be taken into account when the assessment is made. 

A race or show horse, after intense competition, can have a core temperature up to

105. Even at rest, in the summer heat under a tree, a temperature of 101 would not

be considered abnormal. So events preceding the acquisition of the temperature

must be taken into account before it is interpreted.  A high fever doesn't always

indicate a severe condition, but if his temperature is over 102 F, you should call

your veterinarian.




How To Take a Horse's Temperature:

The most accurate way to take a horse's temperature is rectally. Always secure a

string to the end of the thermometer, so that it doesn't get lost  The plastic digital

thermometers work very well and are generally easier to use, and most of them

beep when they are done. Be sure that if you use an older mercury-type

thermometer, that you shake down the mercury before taking the horse's


The horse should be tied or held still by an assistant. Lubricate the tip of the

thermometer with petroleum jelly or Vaseline. Move the horse's tail to the side and

out of the way and insert the thermometer into the horse's rectum, angled slightly

towards the ground. Stand close to the horse's hip ,do not stand directly behind

the horse, because some horses don't like this and might kick out - but most don't

mind. For the most accurate reading, leave a mercury thermometer in position for

at least 3 minutes. Many digital thermometers work well in less than 1 minute.

Important: Always clean the thermometer well before returning it to its case ... and

especially if used on an ill horse, to prevent the spreading of an illness.


Pulse:  The normal pulse rate, most often taken by listening to the heart on the left

side of the chest just behind the left elbow, is 40 beats per minute.


Horses that are fit may have rates as low as 28, and this is not considered

abnormal. However, ANY rate above 40, even 44, should be looked in the context

of how the horse is feeling. Rates between 40-60 are considered "serious," but

may be explained by an elevated temperature.  However, rates above 80 are

considered "critical" and indicate a very serious problem. Of course, these rates

apply to a horse at rest, and any exercise just before taking the pulse should be

taken into consideration. Also, if the horse is suddenly excited, it may be elevated

on a very temporary basis. Listen tothe rate for at least a minute, checking to see

if it comes down, before recording the final rate.


Respiration:  The normal rate for horses is between 8-12 breaths per minute. 
However, many things can effect this that must be taken into consideration before

considering whether it is abnormal. One common factor is his temperature. Other
characteristics of breathing, rather than just the rate, may be more of an overall

indicator of problems. Deep heavy breathing, or breathing with an extra
abdominal effort, abnormal noise, labored breathing, or gasping are all indications

of a very serious problem.  Report any observations that are anything but quiet

and easy breathing.


Mucus Membrane Color:  The normal color is pink. Gums that are pale, deep red,

purple, overly yellow, or streaked with the appearance of small broken blood
vessels are abnormal and should be recorded. Some of the causes for abnormal

appearance are listed below:

Pale:  Low perfusion of blood indicating a "shock" condition.
Deep red:  Congested membranes, also a shock type condition with toxicity.
Purple or blue:  Low oxygen levels or serious toxicosis.
Overly yellow:  Gums are normally slightly yellow, but very yellow may be a liver



Capillary Refill Time:  After depressing the gums, the color should return within

1-2 seconds.  Delayed return of color, 3 seconds or more, is an indication of poor
blood perfusion, often brought on by serious dehydration, shock, or other




Borborygmus:  This refers to the sounds that the gut makes in digesting the feed.

A horse should have a normal gurgling sound on both sides of the abdomen back
near the flanks.  Several horses should be assessed before making a

determination of what can be considered "normal", "none", "low", or "hypermotile."

During colic episodes, horses with little or no gut sounds may be in serious

condition. A hypermotile gut may be indicating an irritation, and this may be

coupled with a loose stool or diarrhea.  Assessing the gut sounds from one

moment to the next may indicate whether a horse's condition is improving or

deteriorating. Take this, and all of the vital signs, frequently.


Hydration State:  The best way to determine hydration is through an assessment

of the horses blood parameters. However, using the "skin turgor test" can often be

a quick field aid. The skin over the shoulder should be pinched with some elevation

of the skin. If it snaps back into place very quickly, the horse may be considered

to be adequately hydrated.  Any delay should be suspect and assessed along with

the other vital signs. Older horses tend to have a more relaxed skin, so this should

be taken into account. Again, assessing this parameter when the horse can be

considered healthy will help determine if this is abnormal.

Conclusion:  It is important to remember that all  the vital signs must be taken into

account when assessing your horse's health/problem.One parameter that may be

outside the normal boundaries may not be overly significant when all of the others

are within normal bounds. 

Also, some signs may adequately explain why others are abnormal, such as an

increased pulse rate associated with a fever. However, reporting all of the signs
before veterinary help arrives can often give a much clearer picture on the level

of concern and the response rate.






Copyright 2005

Veterinary Services




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