Horses and Heat Exhaustion

Hasn't the weather been amazing the past few weeks? The horses seem to be loving it too ... especially the fact that it's too hot to ride during the day. So I've been waiting till about half 8 every night before I even attempt anything and by then they're usually pooped from eating grass all day. They're like sweaty little pigs in the field during the day haha

Heat exhaustion, or hyperthermia, is a condition that occurs in horses after they've been exposed to high temperatures and have become dehydrated. It causes fatigue (extreme tiredness) due to a decrease in blood pressure and volume. It is caused by a loss of body fluids (water depletion) and salts (salt depletion) after being exposed to heat. Heat exhaustion differs from Heat Stroke. Heat stroke occurs when the body's temperature becomes dangerously high. The body is not able to cool itself and starts to overheat. Heat exhaustion can, however, lead on to heat stroke.

Who is at risk?
Those that work doing a lot of physical activity in hot or humid conditions.
Overweight and obese horses and ponies
Foals have poor thermo-regulating abilities and are likely to overheat by simply standing in the sun.
Horses stabled in poorly ventilated stables and those fed hard feeds will produce a lot of heat during digestion. 
Horses who have no access to a salt lick (Where's Your Salt Lick?) or electrolytes will be at greater risk of heat exhaustion. 

Profuse or lack of sweating
Restlessness or lethargy 
Rapid breathing rate (>20 breaths/min) 
Rapid heart rate (>50 beats/min) 
Muscle spasms
Stumbling gait (which can lead to collapse) 
High rectal temperatures (>38°C)

To determine if a horse is dehydrated it is worth carrying out a simple pinch test. When you pinch the horse's skin on the neck, it should go back to its original position immediately. If it takes longer to return to its normal position it can be assumed that the horse is somewhat dehydrated. 

A horse that is overheated will act strangely and display some or all of the symptoms listed above. If you think your horse is suffering from heat stroke then you must cool it down immediately and get in contact with a vet for immediate assistance and advice.

Treatment must be done as quickly as possible. Cold water should be applied to the skin, either by draping cold, wet towels or cold hosing the entire horse. Adding ice to the water can help tremendously. Bringing the horse to a cool and shaded area is also recommended.

Heat stroke indicates a severe loss of electrolytes. Electrolytes given intravenously is an essential part of the treatment process.

Heat stroke and exhaustion can be prevented by not exposing the horse to hot and humid conditions, especially if the horse is to undertake manual or physical work. Water and shaded areas should be available at all times.

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