By Dr. Katie Hennessy
Summer is almost here and along with the fun comes the heat! As the weather heats up, we need to employ a few management techniques and learn to recognize the signs of heatstroke. When assessing the management side, consider ventilation to maximize air flow, encourage water intake, coordinate exercise at the coolest parts of the day, and observe your horse for signs of heat stress and heatstroke.
For horses that live outdoors, make sure there is plenty of shade to keep the horses out of the sun and don’t forget that sunscreen or sun masks are vital for pink noses. If there is limited shade, consider creating a shelter for the day with pasture turnout at night. Horses that are stalled, should have adequate ventilation. To maximize airflow, open all windows and doors and use fans to keep the air flowing thru the stalls.
Water intake is essential to keep your horse cool and healthy. The average 1000lb horse drinks 8-10 gallons of water daily and more if they are exercising. Fresh cool water will encourage drinking and keep their body temperature down. You can offer electrolyte or Gatorade water to replenish electrolytes after exercise. If you offer electrolyte water, make sure to provide plain water too as some horses will not drink the electrolytes.
Plan all exercise in the morning or early evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Evaporation is the main technique for cooling, after exercise hose your horse down and use a sweat scrape to remove the extra water. Remember as the humidity increases, this decreases the horse’s ability to cool themselves by decreasing the rate of evaporation.
Even with proper management, it is important to recognize the signs of heat stress and heatstroke. A horse with heat stress or heatstroke may continue to sweat excessively after stopping exercise or they may stop sweating all together. Signs also include stumbling, weakness, an increased respiratory rate with flared nostrils, and a consistent body temperature over 102℉.
Heatstroke is serious and can be fatal in horses. If your horse is showing signs of heat stress or heatstroke, stop all exercise and move to a shaded area with a fan if possible. Offer small amounts of water and hose their body starting at the feet and working up the body. Cooling happens as the water droplets evaporate, so scrape the water away immediately to speed up the evaporation process. Repeat this until your horse has cooled and do not blanket or apply a cooler. Take your horse’s rectal temperature every 15 minutes, if the temperature is not decreasing call your veterinarian. Severe cases that do not respond quickly to initial treatment may need intravenous fluids and electrolytes to remedy the situation.
This column is sponsored by Polk Equine, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFAN or of its advertisers.
BIO: Dr. Katie Hennessy graduated from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 2008 with a degree in large animal
health and equine medicine. She completed an advanced internship at The Equine Medical Center of Ocala and is currently the owner and
practicing veterinarian at Polk Equine. Her expertise ranges from small and exotic creatures to large animals, specializing in equine medicine.