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TPR – Temperature, Pulse and Respiration

When we go to a doctor, a check of our temperature, pulse and respiration (breathing) can give the doctor a quick snapshot of our health. Similarly, taking your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration each day helps you recognise what is normal, so that you can spot any problems.


A rectal thermometer is used to take your horse's temperature. Lubricate the bulb with mineral oil, petroleum jelly, liquid soap or vegetable oil. Always hold on to the other end of the thermometer while it is in place (or have a string tied on to it) and stand to the side of your horse (not directly behind). Your horse should be appropriately restrained while you take the temperature, preferably by having someone at the horse's head. Leave the thermometer in place for about 3 minutes (some thermometers will beep when the reading is complete). The normal temperature of a horse is usually between 37.5°C and 38.5°C. Try to take your horse's temperature at the same time each day to minimise any variation. Once you've finished, clean the thermometer (especially if you think your horse is sick) to reduce the risk of spreading any illness.


The easiest way to take your horse's pulse is to feel the artery that runs along the jawbone under the cheek. It will feel a bit like a cord, and is movable under the skin. Use your fingers to press the artery against the inside of the jawbone and you will feel the artery pulsating. Count the number of pulsations occurring over a minute. A healthy adult horse will have a rate of around 30-40 beats per minute. Younger horses tend to have a higher rate of around 70-80 beats per minute. Heart rate will be increased if your horse has recently exercised, is excited, nervous, in pain or is sick. If you have a stethoscope, you can also listen to your horse's heart (low down on the left side of the chest wall) to count the number of beats per minute.


The number of breaths each minute (the respiratory rate) is taken simply by observing your horse at rest and counting the number of inhalations or exhalations. Just look for the chest moving in and out with each breath. If you have a stethoscope, you can listen over your horse's windpipe and count each breath. The normal resting respiration rate for an adult horse is around 10-14 breaths per minute.

By undertaking these simple, yet effective, measures you can better understand your horse and have a better idea of when it is important to contact your local vet for professional advice.