Contributed by Sabine Ware, DVM, one of our vets at The Vet Practice.
HOW TO TELL IF YOUR HORSE IS IN PHYSICAL DISTRESS FROM THE HEAT:
Horses will show distress in various different ways. Often it is as simple as them sweating excessively in the paddock, pacing or pawing.
The horses will actively search for shade; so if there is shade in your paddock you may seem them migrate in and out of the shade depending on what their core body temperature is doing.
If shade is not offered you horses will eventually resign to the fact there is not relief and either stand in the hot sun, or show you signs that they are distressed.
I have personally seen horses hang themselves over fences to try and find shade.
HEAT EXHAUSTION/HEAT STRESS:
This is the most common consequence seen in horses left in distress.
They may or may not show you many signs prior to this state, however it is VERY important to recognize the signs of heat stress.
LETHARGY(more quiet than normal) is often a common finding in all cases. This can either be seen by the horse standing with its head low to the ground; a wide-base stance (increase distance between all legs on the ground); laying down excessively or ataxia. Ataxia is abnormal movement seen as lack of co-ordination – the horses may sway or stumble as they walk.
If ataxia is noticed this is CRUCIAL that you contact your vet.
This can go on to cause much more severe signs such as colic, collapse, seizures, coma and even death.
The early signs to look for are signs of lethargy as well as:
– Hydration – pinch the skin on the horses neck; if it sticks together and stays upright this is called SKIN TENTING and tells you your horse is dehydrated
– Eyes – are they bright and open? Dehydration can lead to “dry” looking eyes, that often are not fully open and may even appear sunken back in the sockets.
– High heart rate or respiratory rate – if you don’t have a stethoscope you can take your horses pulse under its jaw about 2/3rds back from the chin. You want their heart rate to be around 40 beats per minute. If their heart rate is around 50, or even 60, we recommend contacting the vet.
– Rectal temperature – you can take your horses temperature with a thermometer. If your horses temperature is 39 or above we recommend ensuring there is plenty of shade, cool water or you can actively allow your horse to cool down.
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHILE I WAIT FOR THE VET?
– If you notice any of the above signs, we recommend contacting your vet for further advice.
– If your horse is over-heating or been out in the sun, actively try and cool him down.
– We recommend hosing them will cool water and scraping the water off, then repeating this.
– Hosing them and leaving the water on often increases the skins temperature – the water creates an insulating layer on their skin. This is why you must scrape it off after hosing. You can do this several times.
– You can use cool towels, however ensure you change them often, for the same reason as above.
– Keep him in the shade and standing until the vet arrives. If he wants to lay down, keep him walking slowly.
– If they have collapsed – place a towel under their head to protect their eyes and facial nerves and ensure you try to decrease their core body temperature by the above means.
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