Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Pulse Feels Weak

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) indicate resting heart rate greater than 48 BPM.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the horse's appetite and attitude are normal and you see nothing else wrong.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp >101F/38.3C) or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.

A pulse is a rhythmic pressure wave within an artery that can be felt by a finger placed against it. The most common location for taking pulse is the facial artery under the jaw but there are several other locations. Each pulse corresponds to a contraction of the left ventricle of the heart.

A weak or “thready” pulse can result from a wide range of underlying causes. Any condition that lowers blood pressure should theoretically weaken the pulse. Examples of such conditions include dehydration, blood loss, shock, and heart dysfunction.

Far more common though is our inability to detect changes in pulse strength. As mentioned in the skill (Taking Pulse), there are many factors which affect our ability to detect the pulse quality. Your own inexperience (operator error) is the most important of these.

WHAT TO DO

If you notice that your horse’s pulse is weak that is a good starting point for additional observations. If a horse seems normal otherwise, consider that your technique is probably to blame. On the other hand, a horse that seems ill, with a high heart rate and pale mucous membranes probably really does have a weak pulse.

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) paying particular attention to heart rate, mucous membrane color, and capillary refill time. Share your findings with your vet. Note: A weak pulse differs from a slow pulse, which is generally not an indication of a problem.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Taken alone, your observation of a weak pulse is usually too vague a sign to help your vet narrow down the problem. However, a weak pulse in horses is often accompanied by other abnormalities that, taken together, assist your vet in choosing appropriate diagnostics, reaching a diagnosis, and suggesting treatment options. When in doubt about the strength of the pulse, blood pressure readings are taken.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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