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Water, bathing, "Lite" salt, or bananas...
Water, bathing, "Lite" salt, or bananas...


As I write this we are enjoying a couple of balmy 80 degree days.  But the last few weeks we have endured very hot temperatures and according to the almanac (yes, I do occasionally read the almanac, but just for the weather, not for scheduling surgeries) the rest of the month is going to be even hotter.  What effect does this high temperature have on our horses?

There are a few obvious effects:
The first obvious effect is the difficulty we have calling them out of the shade.  Even in the shade they will be sweating.  Of course sweating is Mother Nature’s air conditioner.  Through evaporation of moisture from the skin, the horse will feel cooler.
The respiration rate will increase in an attempt to breathe out the warm air in the lungs.  Unfortunately, when the outside temperature is the same as the horse’s body temperature, the relief is small.
Both of these attempts at cooling consume moisture, or body fluids.  The rapid breathing draws in hot dry air and expels air moistened by fluid in the lungs.

Due to the large amount of fluids from the sweat that evaporates or drips from the horse, the amount of water intake should increase during these hot days.  Water should be in front of the horse all the time.  Keeping the water cool may be of some benefit, but a more certain benefit is providing clean water.

Fluid loss from sweating takes a large amount of electrolytes or mineral from the body.  A source of salt and trace mineral should be provided free choice.  This can be in block form and placed where it is convenient for the horse, such as in the shade.  Mineralized
salt is also available in loose form, but it must be protected from moisture.  The advantage of loose salt is that the horse can take in the amount they want more quickly.  I think most of our horses have time to stand at the block and lick for a few minutes each day.

Two of the more common conditions we might expect to see during hot weather include colic and hyperthermia.  Colic is due to dehydration, which slows movement of the food in the bowel and also draws moisture from the stool.  A dry stool has a more difficult time moving through the bowel.  As the process slows, gas and additional stool material will accumulate.  At first the horse feels full, then uncomfortable enough to stop eating, and finally the classic colic signs of rolling, kicking at the side and general uneasiness.

The signs of hyperthermia may be more discreet.  An affected horse is uncomfortable and usually will not eat.  It will be lethargic or just stand around.  If the temperature is checked, it will be very high.  Sometimes these temperatures will be 105 degrees and higher, when the normal should be around 100 degrees during the summer.  This is usually in the evening. Twelve hours later the temperature may be back to normal as will the horse, only to repeat the cycle during the next twelve hours.

The treatment for hyperthermia is to use medications to reduce the temperature as well as bathing and the use of fans.  Prevention is to increase the horse’s fluid intake and make any possible changes in the housing that would make it cooler.  Air flow is very critical if the horse is housed.  This is either by natural movement through large open doors, or assisted with fans.  A thermometer in the barn can be very educational.  Even more interesting is the use of the inexpensive thermometer that records the high and low for the day!

Colic is treated to relieve the pain and to initiate bowel movement.  Prevention of colic is the increasing of fluid intake.

Increased consumption of fluid can be encouraged by supplementing the water with electrolytes.  These are usually mixed with a sweetener and readily accepted.  They are also available in a paste form.  Salt can be added directly to the feed at the rate of a tablespoon per feeding.  An even better choice of salts is to use the “Lite” salt, as it has potassium in addition to sodium.  Potassium loss is great when sweating occurs.  It is much easier to use the “Lite” salt than it is to force feed the horse bananas!

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