Sunday, July 12, 2009

The digital pulse: Normal or not?

Warning: The lower portion of this article has some horsie cadaver photos. Scroll carefully...

The first few times I took a digital pulse I felt frustrated and angry with myself for not having a better sense of what is normal for Harv and Riley. I've more or less learned how to take a pulse but recently Irishcas on COTH posted some super pictures of the actual arteries (on an actual dead horse -- scroll down with CAUTION) so that you know what you're feeling.

I can't summarize how to feel/evaluate a digital pulse any better than this video, Evaluating the digital pulse from The Horse, with Dr. Doug Byers. He refers to individual variation in a normal horse pulse but an abnormal pulse is a "bounding pulse."

Horse and Rider magazine also did a video, apparently without sound, but the accompanying text says that a horse’s pulse should be between 36-42 beats per minute.

Warning, here are the icky photos.....
Warning, here are the icky photos.....
Warning, here are the icky photos.....
Warning, here are the icky photos.....

These photos are from


  1. Icky but good.

    However, according to my farrier, he has found many horses with strong digital pulses that have no unsoundess issues at all. Sometimes the pulse indicates trouble, sometimes it's a consequnce of the horse's having romped about, and some horses just seem to have stronger pulses.

    So, what's right? I guess you would have to monitor your own horse over time. But, a really strong pulse usually accompanies a problem.

  2. I've been through the digital pulse frustration. It is a good idea to figure out what is normal for your horse on all four legs.

    I've always taken it on the back of the fetlock on both sides - making note if the pulse is different on either side of the same leg.

    Still, what is "bounding"?

    Also important not to feel your own pulse in your thumb!

  3. Thank you, I've never been able to find the right spot, and icky as they are, the cadaver photos helped me understand where the veins are.

    I SO appreciate this...I needed to take a digital pulse this week, and did not feel confident at all. Will be working with mentor, but this is great!

  4. I'm coming at this as a (human) healthcare provider, and a relative newbie horseowner in a big barn who often gets asked to "hey, come see if you can feel this!"

    The best thing a layperson/owner can do is to get a sense of their own horse's pulses in all four feet. You also want to practice feeling for pulses when YOUR pulse isn't being charged up with adrenaline... trust me, when it is, you'll feel your own pulse in ALL your fingers, not just your thumb. So it's a good idea to know where to feel beforehand. If you CAN'T normally FEEL a pulse, either because of your skill or the horse's anatomy... and then suddenly you CAN, that's a bounding big pulse. And maybe it's the horse's.

    I have a hard time finding pulses in two of my four equine dependents (and one has foot-pain, the other is not even at risk). The other two (one old, one young) I can find easily, and yet they're perfectly fine.

    On a foundered horses, I can feel the pulse through the hoof wall -- it just refers to there. I'm tuned in to pulses, I have to be for my job, and having the experience of feeling a wide range of pulse wave forms in people has set me up to detect those subtle differences in horses too. Bounding pulses feel like a jackhammer hitting your fingers, unlike a simple strong pulse that has a nice gentle rise and fall.

    I think you're feeling the artery, not the vein. In theory, even if a vein has a pulse, you should be able to compress a vein with your finger pressures, thereby eliminating the pulse. But, I'm not going to claim to know for sure: I'm not a vet. (And when I asked a vet for a good recommendation for a horse anatomy book for someone like me to have as a reference, they winced and just told me that if I found such a book, to let them know, because all theirs sucked!)

  5. This is helpful stuff, even the icky photos. Thanks for sharing!


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