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Seasonal Considerations to Keep Your Horse Healthy--Summer
By Lisa Ross-Williams
The glorious days of summer are upon us which allow long trail rides under a canopy of green leaves. But, the dog-days of summer can present the special challenge of making sure your horse does not overheat.
Self-cooling is usually an efficient process
Horses are homeotherms meaning they are designed to maintain a fairly constant body temperature. They have various responses- behavioral, metabolic and physiologic-to help them when it?s hot. These include increasing their water intake, respiratory rate and sweating, and decreasing the amount of activity and food they eat.
However, certain conditions and situations hinder this natural process, and can cause over-heating and heat stroke.
* Climate. When the air temperature is nearly as high as a horse?s body temperature or when humidity is very high, sweating- the horse?s number one cooling mechanism through evaporation, may become inefficient.
* Dehydration as a result of excessive activity or inadequate water intake.
* Anhidrosis (inability to sweat)
* Sustained exercise (usually human initiated) in hot, humid weather.
Although most horses do just fine in the heat, even in humid weather, there are some other important factors that influence a horse?s ability to not overheat.
First is the human influence. Handlers can possibly push horses into prolonged and/or extreme work when it?s really too hot to be doing so. Horses know the right time to exercise and play and how much, and when to nap, preferably in the shade. The equine?s guardians are responsible for providing a safe and palatable drinking source; most horses will drink enough if the water is good.
Second comes the horse with health issues. Cushing?s syndrome can hinder the horse?s ability to properly cool himself. Horses with Anhydrosis lack the ability to sweat and therefore cannot utilize their most important cooling mechanism. Running a high temperature due to an illness or infection can also hinder his natural cooling abilities. Even being sedated on a hot, humid day can result in a heat related incident.
Heat stroke is an emergency and happens when a horse loses his ability to control his body temperature through thermoregulatory mechanisms. Unchecked, his body temperature rises to excessively dangerous levels, shutting down other bodily functions. A veterinarian?s intervention is necessary.
Initial signs include:
* Capillary refill time over three seconds
* Increased heart rate (normal at-rest pulse is around 35 to 42 beats per minute, slightly faster in youngsters, and 70 to 90 beats in newborn foals)
* Rapid breathing with flared nostrils (normal respiratory rate is 12 to 25 breaths per minute)
* Elevated temperature (normal is 99.5° to 100° Fahrenheit in adults and 99° to 102°F in foals)
As the condition progresses, the horse loses the ability to sweat allowing his body temperature to rise quickly. This is an emergency! He can become unbalanced and possibly fall down. While waiting for your vet to arrive, move the horse out of the sun, spray him with cool water and if available, place a fan nearby for air movement.
Tips to support your horse?s natural cooling ability
1. Provide shade so your horse has the option to use it if he desires.
2. Ensure proper salt intake which is crucial to sustaining normal hydration. Offer free-choice loose salt and add at least 2 Tablespoons to feed per day.
3. Limit exercise in hot, humid weather. If it feels hot and miserable to you, your equine partner probably feels the same.
4. Provide fans to increase air movement, especially in barns. Swamp coolers, which cool by water evaporation and fans, used in very arid climates, give an added bonus of evaporated cooling as well as air flow.
5. Run a sprinkler for short periods of time (remember to practice water conservation) or offer baby pools filled with water so horses can cool off with the moisture. Hosing a horse down can also help cool him but be sure to squeegee the excess water off or heat can actually be trapped against the body.
6. Ensure frequent hoof trimming as hooves grow faster in the summer than winter. If you live in a dry region, occasionally, perhaps weekly, allow the water tank to overflow to create a hoof ?spa?, allowing the hoof to absorb some moisture.
The take-home message is that many over-heating cases can be prevented by sound water management and horse keeping practices.
This article is an excerpt from the book, Down-To-Earth Natural Horse Care-Keeping Your Horse as Best Suits His Mind, Body and Soul. www.down-to-earthnhc.com
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