What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Skin Pinch or Tent at Shoulder Prolonged


A pinch of skin taken at the point of the shoulder and released gives a rough indication of hydration by the time it takes to flatten back out. From 0-1 second is considered normal, 2-3 seconds is prolonged and 4+ seconds is indicative of severe dehydration.

Normal (subcutaneous) tissue under the skin has a very high percentage of water and so is very resilient and elastic. The skin is very tight at the point of the shoulder. The net result in a normal horse is skin that quickly snaps back into place. Dehydrated subcutaneous tissue becomes "sticky" and slowly creep back, causing the skin to be very slow to return to normal.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If examination of your horse suggests that they are clinically dehydrated.
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • If the horse's appetite and attitude are normal and you see nothing else wrong.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
You also might be observing
Very Common
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your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying special attention to gum appearance, capillary refill time (CRT) and heart rate.

Recognize that as with all observations, they are just one piece of the puzzle and so should prompt you to look further. That said, this is a useful indicator of hydration.

What Not To Do

Do not over-interpret this observation, as "normal" returns can be different for different horses. Normal and healthy young foals have notoriously prolonged returns.

your vet's role

Vets are trained to insert each piece of information into the broader puzzle of the horse's health and treat the whole horse. This finding may indicate dehydration and prompt the vet to consider this in reaching a diagnosis and recommending treatment.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • Is the horse drinking water normally?
  • What is the Capillary Refill Time (CRT)?
  • What is the horse's heart rate?
  • How much water is your horse drinking per day?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP