Managing the Effects of Heat Stress

By Administrator on June 3rd, 2009
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by Dr. J. Royce Hagaman, Veterinarian & Paul Ebert, EquiCooling Systems

Understanding the short and long-term effects of hot and humid weather on your animals and their living and working spaces is necessary to preserve the health, safety and performance of your horse. Extreme environmental conditions can have a negative and serious impact on your horses. Whether it’s in the arena or in the stables, or anywhere your horses may be exposed to higher temperatures or intense activity, it’s important to understand what can happen to your horse and what steps you can take to prevent or reduce the effects of heat stress.

Why do horses overheat?

There are many factors that can contribute to a horse overheating. Horses subjected to prolonged activity, such as intensive work or exercise in high temperatures and high humidity, can suffer from the symptoms of heat stress. In addition, hot, stuffy stables, high temperatures in arenas and health care facilities, poorly ventilated barns, stables and travel trailers, can all negatively impact a horse’s environment and ability to self-cool. Finally, health conditions such as Anhydrosis a condition where horses have little or no ability to produce sweat affect a horse’s capacity to cool down effectively, leaving them vulnerable to severe, even deadly symptoms.

What are the symptoms of overheating or heat stress?

When horses overheat, they become lethargic, exhibit a rapid heart rate and fast shallow breathing, sweat profusely, or in the case of anhydrotic horses, the skin may become dry and hot, and sweating may cease or never occur. Symptoms can vary based on activity level, environmental conditions, and the age and health of the horse.

Tips to keep horses cool & prevent heat stress

There are many steps owners and caretakers can take to keep their horses cool and comfortable. Begin by stopping exercise or activity immediately if a horse is showing signs of distress. Remove saddles or harnesses after ceasing activity and allow the animal to cool down adequately. Rinse or sponge down horses with cool water and provide small amounts of water at frequent intervals before, during and after activity to immediately reverse any symptoms of heat stress.

A horse’s body temperature can also be stabilized and lowered through the use of evaporative cooling systems or fans that significantly lower the air temperature in a horse’s working and/or resting environment. And remember to always provide adequate ventilation in stables, arenas and travel trailers.

Most importantly, call your veterinarian if signs of heat stress don’t improve after the appropriate steps are taken, as this is dangerous and can be life threatening.

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