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Equine Health Resource

Shock, Ears & Limbs Seem Cold, Pulse is Weak & Rapid

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

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

    Shock is a life-threatening condition in which the blood vessels in the limbs and extremities narrow, reducing blood flow to these areas while keeping blood pressure higher to vital organs. The result is that the extremities feel cold. Heart rate also increases in an attempt to maintain blood flow to vital organs. Shock often occurs in conjunction with the serious progression of a variety of other underlying disease processes.


    Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to heart rate, gum color, pulse strength, capillary refill time and temperature of appendages. A horse in shock has a high heart rate, abnormal gum color, weak pulse, delayed capillary refill time and cool ears, muzzle and limbs.

    Shock is a veterinary crisis that must be addressed immediately by your vet. Lightly blanket your horse if it is shivering. Keep the horse as quiet and calm as possible until your vet arrives.


    Your vet will likely begin treatment for shock in attempt to stabilize your horse before they begin performing diagnostics necessary to identify the underlying problem.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


    Kellon E, Dr. Kellon's Guide to First Aid for Horses, 2nd ed. Emmaus: Breakthrough Publications, 2005.


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