Caring for your Horse in High Heat

Can you believe fall is next week? Although many of us are currently dreaming of pumpkin-fueled autumnal bliss, its scheduled arrival isn’t guaranteed to bring an immediate break in the heat.

In fact, horse owners could be staring down summer-like temps for weeks to come.

Regardless of how high the mercury climbs, here is some insight on ways you can keep your horse safe and comfortable in the heat.

How Horses Respond to Heat

Designated sweat glands are one way horses can dispel heat. The other is by sending heat through the blood and releasing it through the skin cells. Excess fluids are reserved in the gastrointestinal tract to ensure blood flow doesn’t become viscous or blocked.

To support this process and prevent a heat-related illness or injury, horse owners need to be diligent about checking dehydration levels.

Some tale tell signs your horse is dehydrated include:

  • Noticeably dark-colored urine.
  • White spot on gums lasting more than two seconds when gently pressed with finger.
  • Brown or blackish mucous membranes.
  • Raised skin that takes longer than three seconds to flatten out with a gentle skin-pinch.
  • Increased body temperature.
  • Refusal to drink.

Importance of Electrolytes

On an average fall day, your horse may drink five to seven gallons of water during the course of an afternoon. During hot weather or heat extremes, that number could increase to more than 20 gallons.

As important as access to fresh, clean water is to preventing heat stress, it’s not the only requirement. Electrolytes like magnesium, phosphate and potassium provide vital nutrients that are lost as your horse sweats. If their levels dip too low, your horse may experience dangerous fatigue or muscle tremors and is at a higher risk of heat stroke.

Many of these electrolytes are found in all-natural athlete feeds, grass and hay. Sodium and chloride, however, must be consumed through salt or added to your horses’ water supply. Dissolving electrolytes and water that’s flavored with apple juice can encourage your horse to drink after a spell of dehydration. It’s important to supply your horse with fresh, clean, and cool water and a white salt block.

Treating Heat Exhaustion

If you observe your horse hanging his head or displaying signs of depression, investigate further. They could be a sign of life threatening heat stress.

For starters, know that an inability to sweat is always a bad sign. Sweat that appears thick or takes on a sticky texture is also cause for alarm.

Begin by feeling his pulse to see if it is registering as weak or irregular. Next, listen in on his breathing. If you hear gulping and gasping, or elevated sounds and gurgling noises from the stomach, contact your vet immediately and begin the cool down process outlined below.

Cooling your horse’s body temperature could save his life. He’s at risk for brain injury and permanent muscle damage if his temperature gets above 104 degrees. In times of heat stress, follow these steps until the vet arrives.

  1. Move your horse to the shade.
  2. Start with running cold water on the legs to slowly lower the body temp.
  3. Begin drenching cold water on the body.
  4. Offer buckets of cool water infused with dissolved electrolytes.
  5. Use cold packs under the horse’s throat to bring down brain temp.

Ultimately, knowing how to identify and react to signs of heat exhaustion could save your horses’ life. Practice these heat stress prevention tips and it’ll be happy trails leading into fall.

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