Knowledge of Horse Physiology Helps Protect Equine Health
by Donald Stotts
STILLWATER--Horse owners have a better chance of detecting disease and stress in a horse if they are familiar with the normal temperature and heart and respiration rates of the nimal.
Familiarity with a horse's normal physiological parameters allows owners to respond quickly to abrupt or sizable changes, said Dave Freeman, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension equine specialist.
"The first line of defense is knowing what constitutes the normal behavior of your horse," Freeman said. "Some horses are naturally calm, others extremely active. Some are aggressive eaters, others are slow and picky."
Freeman said horse behavior can be expected to change during certain times, such as foaling, weaning or when horses are moved to new environments or are placed with new horses.
"The good horse manager knows the individual behavior for each horse that is normal," Freeman said. "Changes from that normal behavior should be followed up with more quantitative measurements."
A horse's heart rate will vary from resting rates of 30 to 40 beats per minute to highs of over 200 beats per minute during extreme stress or intense exercise. Heart rate can be estimated by taking the horse's pulse from arteries which traverse the jaw or from those arteries located in the lower leg.
"An elevated heart rate while a horse is at rest is a sign the animal is in pain or stressed," Freeman said.
Respiration rates for resting mature horses should be around 12 to 16 breaths per minute. This rate is significantly increased when the horse is sick or stressed.
"Respiration rate can be expected to be highly variable even under normal behavior and health," Freeman said. "However, consistent rapid, shallow breaths are an example of signs of stress."
A horse's normal temperature of around 101 degrees Fahrenheit likewise will increase when the animal is in a diseased or distressed state. Temperature can be higher and still remain within normal parameters when horses are housed outside in hot weather or in the case of newborn foals.
"Still, a rise in temperature is one of the most conclusive signs that something abnormal is occurring in the horse," Freeman said.
Temperature parameters are easily monitored by horse owners, and should be recorded in a horse's permanent file. Freeman said inexperienced owners may want to have their local veterinarians show them the proper techniques.
"The actual task of monitoring temperatures parameters can alter the observable results, so a watchful, experienced eye must relate the measurements with other indicators of a horse's stress status," Freeman said.
Horse owners or local veterinarians can use this information to diagnosis problems more quickly, thereby increasing chances of a rapid recovery for the horse.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Oklahoma State University for allowing us to provide you with this information.
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