Equines, like any other living creature, are susceptible to the effects of heat. Horses, donkeys, and mules are some of the most commonly kept equines around the world. These animals have evolved to thrive in temperate and cooler climates, making them especially vulnerable to heat stress when exposed to high temperatures. Read on for more information on how heat affects equines and how owners can protect their animals.
Heat stress is a condition that occurs when an animal's body is unable to regulate its core temperature in response to high temperatures. The equine body is designed to maintain a core temperature between 99-101°F, but when the outside temperature exceeds 95°F, it can be difficult for the body to regulate its temperature effectively. When this happens, the horse may experience a range of symptoms, including:
- Rapid breathing
- Excessive sweating
- Elevated heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle tremors
If left untreated, heat stress can quickly progress to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition that can cause permanent damage to the organs or even death. There are particular factors that may influence how severe the heat stress is.
Factors that Affect Heat Stress
Several factors can influence the severity of heat stress in equines, including:
- Age and Health: Young, elderly, and sick animals are more susceptible to heat stress.
- Coat Color: Dark-coated equines absorb more heat from the sun than light-colored ones, making them more prone to heat stress.
- Humidity: High humidity can reduce the effectiveness of sweating, making it more difficult for the horse to cool down.
- Exercise: Horses engaging in strenuous activities, such as racing or eventing, are more likely to suffer heat stress.
- Environment: Horses kept in poorly ventilated stables or in direct sunlight for extended periods are likelier to develop heat stress.
It is essential to see what factors make certain equines more prone to heat stress, so let’s take a closer look at how to prevent it.
Preventing Heat Stress
Preventing heat stress in equines is essential to their health and well-being. Owners should take the following steps to keep their horses cool and comfortable during hot weather:
- Provide Adequate Water: Horses need access to clean, fresh water at all times. During hot weather, owners should regularly monitor their horses' water intake and refill their water buckets.
- Shade and Ventilation: Horses should have access to shade, such as trees or a stable, to protect them from the sun's direct rays. Stables should be well-ventilated to allow air to circulate and cool the environment.
- Adjust Feeding: Horses should be fed small, frequent meals during hot weather to prevent digestive problems. Owners should avoid feeding hay during the hottest parts of the day, as it can generate additional heat.
- Cool Baths: Horses can benefit from a cool bath or hose down during hot weather to lower their body temperature.
- Avoid Exercising During Peak Heat: Horses should not be exercised during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, owners should schedule workouts for early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler.
Monitor for Signs of Heat Stress: Owners should monitor their horses for signs of heat stress and take action immediately if they notice any symptoms. This includes moving the horse to a cooler location, providing cold water to drink, and contacting a veterinarian if the symptoms do not improve.
Heat stress is a severe condition that can affect equines. Owners must take proactive steps to keep their animals cool and comfortable. Providing access to shade, fresh water, ventilation, adjusting feeding, and avoiding exercise during peak heat are all imperative measures to help prevent heat stress. Horses that are on less than 8 hours of good pasture a day, can benefit from adding Health E to their feed in order to help with reducing heat stress. Why? Vitamin E is a vasodilator, so it helps in reducing body temperature ---horses cool themselves primarily via their skin (they don't pant like a dog).Equine Medical & Surgical Associates wants to aid you in getting your horse back to peak health! We have a list of products that you will find helpful to prevent equine health issues and make your horse well again. We want to hear from you! Tell us about your horse. Contact us by reaching out to Dr. Reilly, our veterinarian with 32 years of experience, who is dedicated to helping educate owners.