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Heat Stress

Heat Stress in Horses

By Chuck Maker, DVM

Horses can't "chill out" as easily as humans - they need a little help especially at our altitude with its relatively low humidity and high UV index and thin air.  Summertime is great - but hot, especially this year, it seems.  Seasonal weather also brings the risk of heat stress, a dangerous condition that requires prompt attention. Heat stressed horses have pale mucous membranes, rapid and weak pulses and dry skin. Suspected victims should be kept quiet, moved to a cool area and cooled down with ice water rinses and fans. Untreated patients can often be off feed, be colicky, go into shock, and if untreated suffer vital organ shutdown, collapse and die. We treat heat stress patients as medical emergencies where treatment often includes aggressive fluid therapy. So here are risk factors to avoid:

  • Overexertion in training or competition whether it be on the trail or in the show pen.
  • Inadequate hydration
  • Prolonged shipping.
  • Poor conditioning.

Offering a daily oral balanced electrolyte in feed or water throughout the summer is a great way to avoid trouble. High quality roughage feeds are also helpful as they impart more water to the colon for normal physiologic processes. Make free choice palatable water available at all times and try offering one bucket of electrolyte water and one plain to allow your horse to consume what it needs. When transporting your horse is necessary in the heat, be sure to make frequent stops adjusting your plans to the ambient conditions. Above all, if your horse just "doesn't have it" on a hot, humid day - stop, get off, cool him down and call it a day!  Give us a call if you’d like to discuss how to help your horse beat the heat.

Learn about Fear Free Visits to the Vet and the Certified Fear Free Professionals at Alpine Animal Hospital.


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