Heat Stroke in Horses: Know the Signs

Overheated horse laying down in grass having heat stroke

With the summer months bringing high temperatures, we must keep ourselves and our horses safe from heat-related illnesses like heat stroke.

Unfortunately, when a horse isn’t feeling well from the heat, they can’t express it verbally to us. That’s why it’s imperative to know what causes heat stroke and the signs that your horse might be suffering from overheating.

What is Heat Stroke?

Your horse’s body can become overheated because of high temperatures or high-intensity exercise, where heat production can increase by up to 50%. It can impact their respiratory, vascular, nervous, and muscular systems. Your horse’s body temperature must be cooled down, and lost fluids must be replaced so that these systems can continue working properly. If not, your horse can suffer heat stroke, causing their vital bodily systems to shut down.

What Are the Major Causes of Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke occurs due to hot and humid weather and intense exercise. Overweight and out-of-shape horses will be more likely to develop heat stroke. If your horse is not exercising, they can develop heat stroke when spending time in an enclosed trailer, an area with no shade, or when in a barn that is closed or not well ventilated. Horses that cannot sweat are also more likely to develop heat stroke.

What Are the Symptoms of Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke may start as dehydration or heat exhaustion, with heat stroke rapidly following. It is important to understand the symptoms of heat exhaustion so that you can assist your horse before their condition worsens. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Stumbling
  • Rapid breathing
  • Signs of dehydration, including loss of skin elasticity, sunken eyes, tacky membranes, and cessation of urination.
  • High temperature
  • Excessive salivation
  • Rapid pulse
  • Convulsion

How to Treat Heat Stroke

Treatment of heat stress and stroke in horses will depend on the severity of your horse’s symptoms. If you suspect your horse is experiencing heat stress, it is critical to immediately stop all exercise and move it to a cooler setting, such as in the shade. Be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately.

While waiting for veterinary assistance, place a fan next to your horse and spray them with cool water. Allow your horse access to fresh water in small intervals until the veterinarian arrives. Your veterinarian will likely want to give your horse some intravenous fluids and electrolytes to help cool them off and replenish fluid and electrolyte losses.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke

To keep your horse healthy and safe from the heat, be sure to:

Cool Down After Exercise

Finish your exercise session with walking to begin the cooling process. When back at the yard or water point, remove all tack as quickly as possible and wet the whole horse with copious quantities of cold water. Work from both sides of the horse and ensure that the large veins inside the legs and down the neck are continuously cooled. Walk your horse lightly while cooling to aid circulation and help them cool down more effectively. Do not apply wet towels during the cooling process.

Have Access to Water and Shade

Ensure that your horse always has free access to water. If you need to exercise them strenuously in hot weather, they will need supplementation with feed and drinking water electrolytes to assist with rehydration. Remember that the horse may need time to accept electrolyte water, so offer a choice of plain water as well.

Utilize any shade that may be available and avoid rugging your horse as this can cause their temperature to become artificially elevated.

Travel Safely

Trailers and horseboxes can become very hot inside when the weather conditions are warm, so try to avoid traveling your horse in these conditions. If you must travel, ensure you have plenty of water on board and ventilate the vehicle as best possible. Park the vehicle in the shade before loading to reduce loading temperature. You may wish to consider traveling at night if the temperature is lower. If you have a long journey, allowing the horse at least 24-48 hours to recover before exercising is essential.

The portable run-in sheds and horse barns from Deer Creek Structures will protect your horse from the summer heat. Our structures are custom-built to meet the individual needs of the horses and their owners and are made with hardworking American craftsmanship that will last you a lifetime!

Contact us at (254)546-2276 to inquire about pricing and availability!