Although horses are more heat tolerant than some other animals, including cattle, they are still at risk for heat-related problems during the summer months. High temperatures, especially when combined with strenuous work, can quickly lead to dehydration, heatstroke, or other problems.
Horses regulate their body temperature by sweating and have been known to lose up to 10 percent of their body weight in sweat per hour. Horses do not pant; however, they will breathe faster and heavier when becoming overheated as an additional means of cooling their bodies. If either of these cooling mechanisms fails, such as when a horse suffers from anhidrosis, which is an inability to sweat, the risk of dangerous heat-related complications increases.
Overheating in Horses
Overheating is more serious that just feeling a little hot and tired; it involves prolonged elevated body temperature and increases your horse’s risk of dehydration and other serious problems. Overheating can occur rapidly, especially if your horse is trapped in an enclosed or sunny space with limited air circulation, such as a fenced pen, small stable, or barn. Working horses and very young foals are also at high risk.
To prevent overheating, provide your horse with clean, cool drinking water at all times. On average, horses need about one gallon of drinking water for every pound of feed during the summer. Horses also require constant access to loose or block salt to replace salt lost during sweating. Feeding your horse an electrolyte mixture following strenuous work is also beneficial.
Discontinue exercising your horse in very hot weather, and avoid using blankets or other coverings. Take him out at night and keep him stabled in a shaded, well-ventilated area during the day. If your horse shows signs of overheating, such as profuse sweating or muscle tremors, spray him immediately with cool water, increase his fluid intake, and call your veterinarian.
Heatstroke in Horses
Overheating can escalate to heatstroke without prompt treatment. If your horse develops symptoms of heatstroke, which is a potentially fatal condition, seek emergency veterinary care. Heatstroke can lead to death within hours.
Heatstroke in horses may cause rapid respiration, dry skin, convulsions, delirium, weakness, refusal to work, and a cessation of sweating. Your horse’s pulse rate may increase to 50 to 100 beats per minute, and his rectal temperate will exceed 105 degrees Fahrenheit. If you allow his temperature to climb to 107 degrees, neurological damage and death become likely.
To prevent permanent damage or death, cool your horse with a cool water spray and place ice packs on his head and on the large blood vessels located on the inside of his legs. If it is possible to do so, bring your horse into an air-conditioned or otherwise cool room. If this is not possible, keep him calm in a shaded place until veterinary help arrives.
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