Temperatures in many southern states are frequently in the high 90’s during the summer and may surpass 100 degrees on occasion. Factor in the Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi humidity and horses there will surely need extra heat management care. Owners should follow these 8 heat management tips when temperatures soar to assure the comfort and health of their horses.
- Nutritional Requirements: Many cool season grasses dry up during the summer. Owners may find it necessary to provide supplemental hay for grazing horses for adequate nutrition. A test for poor quality grasses is to place a small amount of hay in the stall. If the horse gobbles the hay up quickly, additional supplemental hay is probably a good idea. A high quality legume hay should be supplied for lactating mares and foals. Check with your veterinarian to see if supplemental sweet feed or pellets are required. A salt lick will help resupply sodium and chloride lost from perspiration.
- Shade: Horses will require exercise even during the hottest summer days. However, horses should not be left in a paddock with little shade all day. Shade provides significant physiological benefits for horses during a heatwave.
- Dehydration: Monitor horses for signs of dehydration. Dark urine and elevated body temperature are good indicators of dehydration. Fluids and electrolytes should be replenished. Horses will usually drink adequate amounts of water to restore hydration if plenty of fresh water is supplied.
- Overheated: A horse with a rectal temperature of 104 degrees or slightly less is overheated, but not in immediate danger. Steps should be taken to cool the horse, such as supply plenty of water, remove the saddle, place the horse in a shaded area, bathe the horse with water and slowly walk the horse in circles to allow the air to cool the body. Do not mount the horse at this time. If the horse does not return to normal within an hour, a veterinarian should be contacted. The veterinarian may decide that IV fluids are necessary.
- Heat Exhaustion: Perspiration allows the horse’s own system to cool the body temperature. If a horse stops perspiring and the body temperature reaches 104 degrees or more, the horse is suffering from heat exhaustion. An elevated or weak pulse is an indicator of problems. Shallow breathing or gulping to inhale is a sure sign of dangerous conditions. The horse’s ears may begin to droop. Handlers and owners should move the horse to a shaded area, supply water and continue to monitor the horse’s condition.
- Fans: Many owners place fans inside horse stables. Fans help circulate the air allowing the horse’s own cooling mechanisms to work more efficiently. Cords should be placed out of the way to avoid electrocution.
- Ice Baths: Contrary to previous opinions, in a hot humid climate, the veterinarian may recommend adding ice to the water and pouring over the horse. Previously, people believed that an ice bath would cause the horse to go into shock. Recently, ice baths have been proven to lower heart rates and cool core body temperatures in horses. Concentrate efforts on the head, neck, body and ribs and avoid the hind quarters if possible.
- Heat Stroke: Body temperature remaining at 106 degrees or reaching 108 degrees endangers the horse. These temperatures can lead to stroke. Collapsing, convulsions, difficulty moving, erratic behavior and stumbling are all signs of heat stroke. A veterinarian should be called immediately, as drastic measures are required.
*Photo courtesy of Horse to Water 8 by Robert Holmes at Flickr’s Creative Commons.
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