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


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


Shock is the body's natural response to severe injury or dysfunction. it has vital function in keeping the animal (or person) alive but can in itself lead to other problems. In cardiovascular shock (as a result of blood loss for instance), 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 occurs as a response to a variety of other underlying life-threatening disease processes too.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

your role


What To Do

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

What Not To Do

Do not move your horse, unless necessary. Do not give medications unless directed to do so by your vet.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Are you seeing other signs of abdominal pain (colic)?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Has anything changed in the environment, feed or management?
  • Has your horse been ridden or exercised today?
  • Have you given the horse any medications, vaccinations or dewormers lately?
  • 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

Related References:

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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP