How to spot and prevent heatstroke in horses

How to spot and prevent heatstroke in horses

What is heatstroke?

Heat stroke (also known as heat exhaustion or hyperthermia) is very dangerous in animals, and in some severe cases can be fatal. When horses are performing excessive amounts of work in very hot or humid weather, the horse is unable to lose body heat causing its body temperature to go up rapidly.

Not only can a horse get heat stroke when doing exercise, but on very hot days a horse’s body temperature can rise when in the field or stable. Stables are usually made from wood and so can heat up very quickly. Although it may seem like the best idea to get the horse out of the sun, it can be far hotter in a stable, giving the horse no way of escaping the heat. The ideal situation would be to turn the horse out in a field with lots of shelter, i.e. trees or a field shelter. This will allow the horse to access the shade to get out of the sun.

Signs of heatstroke in horses

The signs to watch out for heatstroke in horses are:

  • Restlessness/lethargy
  • Panicky/manic
  • Increased sweating
  • Heavy breathing/Rapid pulse
  • Excessive salivation
  • Redness of the tongue
  • High body temperature
  • Muscle spasms
  • Collapse

How to prevent heatstroke

Below are some tips on how to prevent your horse from overheating:

  • Avoid prolonged or intense periods of exercise
  • Avoid the hottest times of the day
  • Remove all tack as quickly as possible
  • Wet the whole horse with plenty of cold water
  • Walk your horse lightly whilst cooling to aid circulation
  • Access to water at all times
  • If your horse has a thick coat, consider clipping
  • Avoid travelling as horse boxes can get very hot inside

What to do if you suspect your horse has heatstroke?

Once you notice any of the signs of heatstroke in your horse, as quickly as possible:

  • Stop all exercise
  • Cold water to the skin/poured over the horse’s body
  • Add ice to water in severe cases of heat stroke
  • Fan the horse and take to a shady area
  • Call your vet!

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