Summer heat can be dangerous for horses, resulting in dehydration, lethargy, and general malaise. Severe heat stress may cause diarrhea, or even colic. Owners can take important steps to keep horses safe and comfortable during the hot days ahead.
Janet Johnston, DVM, Emergency and Critical Care veterinarian at Penn Vetís New Bolton Center, offers the following tips for the hot days of summer:
- Choose cooler turnout times. If your horse has a stall, but is turned out for part of the day, provide turnout during the cooler hours. Overnight is ideal, but if thatís not feasible, then have the horse go outside as early as possible during the day.
- Provide shade. If your horse lives outdoors, or if it must be outside during the day, provide relief from the sun. A run-in shed is best. Trees are a source of shade, but as the sun moves, so will the shade. Make sure that regardless of the time of day, available trees are offering shade.
- Move the air. Fans are a great way to help keep the air moving in the barn, but use them wisely. Your horse will benefit most if the fan is pulling the hot air out of the stall, not pushing air into the stall. And always ensure that your horse cannot reach cords and plugs.
- Mist your horse. If you are fortunate enough to have a system to mist your horse, use it. As the moisture is absorbed from your horseís skin, it will take away some of the heat. Frequent mistings are far more effective than a single dousing with a hose.
- Provide fresh, cool water. Make sure your horse has plenty of clean water. A bucket hanging on a fence will get warm, and the water will no longer be appealing. Left long enough, the water will also become stagnant and unhealthy. If you are providing clean, cool water and your horse doesnít seem to be drinking, then encourage it by providing a salt block, or even by misting hay with salt water.
- Offer electrolytes. If your horse is sweating a great deal, water laced with electrolytes can help keep its body in balance. Whenever you offer electrolytes, however, be sure to offer fresh water, as well. Too many electrolytes can be harmful.
- Slow down the work. Donít think that because your horse has been working intensely at 1 pm every day that it can take the heat when the temperature tops 90 degrees. If you have to work your horse in the heat, lighten the work or spread it out over a couple of short sessions. This is especially important when the humidity is high, contributing to the poor quality of the air your horse is breathing.
- Stick to a schedule. Within the parameters of keeping your horse cool, try to stay as close as possible to a normal schedule. Too much change at one time can be an invitation to colic.
- Avoid sunburn. Horses, especially white horses, can suffer from sunburn. Even those with white socks and blazes, pink noses, or hairless patches from scarring can be susceptible. Using a fly scrim can help. In addition, applying sunblock to small, particularly vulnerable areas can be effective. Staying out of the sunís harmful rays will, of course, be best. (Also be aware: if a horse has excessive sunburn, it could indicate a rare, underlying liver disease).
- Clip horses with longer hair coats. Clipping is important, especially for those with Cushings disease.†While some coat can provide protection from the sun and insulation, a long, thick coat tends to hold heat and makes it difficult for the horse to cool down.