Caregivers should maintain a close vigil with horses during the winter months to assure health. Proper treatment and precautions can lessen winter's harsh impact on horses. Common cold weather health risks that often affect horses are colic, dehydration, thrush and weight loss.
- Impaction Colic: Changes in feed and less exercise during the cold weather months may result in impaction colic for horses. Feed may obstruct the narrowest point of the large colon. Symptoms are decreased appetite, dry, hard manure or no manure. Impaction colic is a very serious medical condition and requires treatment by a veterinarian. The horse may start rolling on the ground or pawing the ground. Providing plenty of water and exercise during the winter months should help keep impaction colic from occurring.
- Dehydration: Dehydration is a loss of water and electrolytes and is normally a result of diarrhea or excessive exercise in horses. During the winter season, the water source may become frozen. Caregivers should check the water supply during freezing temperatures. Owners should consider investing in a heating element to halt the possibility of water freezing. Dehydration can lead to kidney failure. Some of the symptoms of dehydration are frequent shallow breaths, dry eyes and very red gums.
- Thrush: Melting snow may result in wet muddy conditions. Wet muddy conditions can easily lead to problems with hooves. Caregivers should check hooves for snow, ice and mud. Thrush is a bacterial condition that can easily invade hooves that have softened due to excessive moisture. Thrush will appear as black dead material in or adjacent to the triangular shaped frog of the hoof. Thrush is a condition that should be taken seriously and treated with care as thrush can result in permanent lameness. Good hoof care and proper mucking of stalls will help prevent thrush.
- Weight Loss: Horses require extra calories during cold weather temperatures to maintain weight and increase body temperature. In the wild, a horse’s natural instinct leads horses to consume more calories. Otherwise, the caretaker must provide higher caloric nutritional feed during the winter months to maintain a healthy horse. Winter coats may hide weight loss in a horse. The caregiver should run his/her hand over the horse to feel for adequate fat reserves. Hay will help the horse generate body heat during the cold weather months.
*Photo courtesy of Snow Work by Kristine Oakhurst at Flickr’s Creative Commons.
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