• Dr K.

Finger on the pulse.

Given that this weeks Friday factoid involved a jockey dying in the saddle, coming up with a fitting subject for a blog post was a little tricky. Ultimately we figured a discussion on the horse's heart would be vaguely suitable.

Museum specimen horse heart.

Horse hearts are pretty amazing. Your average sized horse has one the size of a watermelon that can pump up to 10 gallons of blood per minute at rest (we manage about a quart).

Normal heart rates for horses are around 24-40, although of course this can vary depending on the size of the animal and their fitness/health status.

The only way to know what is normal for your horse is to take the resting heart rate on a regular basis.

Now, if you've had any sort of physical exam on your horse you will have seen us use a stethoscope to check the heart. These are readily available for anyone to purchase and if you have an interest in horse health it can be useful tool to have on hand. You can most easily hear the heart on the left hand side, just behind the elbow.

Depending on the circumstances, we listen to the heart for a number of different reasons. Either because we're about to sedate a horse and want to make sure their cardiovascular system is working appropriately. Or we're assessing a sick horse when we can use it as a benchmark for determining pain, or as an indicator that something has gone wrong within the abdomen, or sometimes (and surprisingly rarely) if something is wrong with the heart itself.

Being a prey species horses will try to hide their pain but their heart rate can be a giveaway. If you would like to check your horse's heart rate but don't have a stethoscope you can do this by taking your horse's pulse. There are a few locations you can do this but the most reliable one would be the facial artery. This can be found on the inside edge of the big cheek muscle. It's quite a big artery so you should be able to feel it wiggling about under your fingers. Apply a little pressure down on it until you feel the pulse (too much will stem the flow all together). Count the number of beats in a set time frame and multiply to get beats per minute. How long your horse stands will usually determine how long you can count for. The longer you get, the more accurate your BPM but try to count for at least 10 seconds.

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Only by knowing what is normal for your horse can we truly assess when things are abnormal. As one of the vital signs (along with temperature and respiration rate), knowing how to check your horse's heart rate is one way you as an owner or caretaker can be proactive in monitoring your horse's health.

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