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Helping horses cope when its hot
Very hot weather is great if you love the heat, but for animals, high temperatures can present a challenge to horses, especially if they are competing, are old or overweight or have existing health problems.
Sensible management in hot weather can help reduce the risk of heat related problems. Horses can acclimatise to heat but only if they are exercised in the heat and learning to identify the signs of heat related illness and knowing when to call for veterinary help can save lives.
The horse is able to sweat faster than any other animal. Sweat cools the skin down, and the blood flowing through it, by evaporation. However, being able to sweat so much means horses are at risk of dehydration. This increases the risk of some health problems including colic and respiratory disease.
Less water in the body means food material in the GI tract becomes firmer and moves more slowly through the intestines. With dehydration the mucus in the airways of the lungs become thicker and moves more slowly leading to greater accumulation of allergens and even bacteria or viruses. This may lead to inflammation or infection.
Increased sweating also means an increased loss of electrolytes.
Horse sweat contains 11g of electrolytes per litre and is much more concentrated than human sweat.
According to Dr David Marlin over a period of weeks and months this can lead to electrolyte depletion or imbalance (depending on what is being provided by the diet as horses cannot make electrolytes but must get them from food) and an increased risk of problems such as reduced performance, tying-up (exertional rhabdomyolysis) and “thumps” (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter); the latter is most common in endurance horses but does occur in racehorses and eventers.
Adding table salt (sodium) to the feed will help replace this electrolytes lost in sweat / ½ to 1 25ml scoop per day for horses not in work, 1-2 scoops per day for horses in medium work and 2-3 scoops per day for horses in hard work.
However, the horse is likely to be deficient in other electrolytes. Adding electrolytes, like Animalife’s Vetrolytes PLUS to feed or water will help alleviate this.
The amount your horse drinks will increase in hot weather and it is important to supply at least two 15 litre buckets and check them at least twice a day.
Depending on the type of stabling, keeping your horse in is an option too. This can also help reduce the irritation from flies.
Some horses lose weight in hot weather as energy is required to regulate its temperature and keep the body cool.
Capacity for exercise can also be reduced with the horse tiring earlier.
Horses can also be susceptible to sunburn, especially on pink areas of skin. A factor 50 suncream snd fly mask will help.
Your horse may be suffering in the heat if he shows any of the following signs:
• An elevated heart rate that does not return to normal in a reasonable period of time
• Excessive sweating or lack of sweating
• Temperature that persists above 39.4C
• Depression and/or lethargy
• Signs of dehydration: dry mucous membranes, poor capillary refill, and poor skin turgor
• Panting (faster shallow breathing)
• Nostril flaring
• Increased rectal temperature
• Decreased appetite and thirst
• Dark urine
• Reduced urination
• Reduced performance
• Muscle spasms
• “Thumps” (synchronous diaphragmatic flutter)
• Abnormal (irregular) heart rhythm
• Slow recovery after exercise
How to Help Your Horse in Hot Weather
If you are concerned that your horse is suffering from heat stroke, call your vet immediately and get your horse into a cooler environment.
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