Heat Stroke in Horses

What is heat stroke and how do you recognize it?

Heat stroke occurs when you horse’s natural cooling mechanisms fail to keep his body temperature at a normal level. If left untreated, heat stroke could kill your horse. The best way to avoid heat stroke is to closely monitor your horse when riding in warm weather. Know your horse’s normal vital signs, know the symptoms of heat stroke, and take immediate action to cool your horse off when he gets too hot!

Normal vital signs:

  1. Temperature between 99°F and 100.5°F
  2. Heart rate between 36 and 44 beats per minute
  3. Respiration rate between 8 and 16 breaths per minute

Signs of heat stroke:

  1. Rectal temperature over 103°
  2. Heart rate over 80 beats per minute that does not decrease after a few minutes of rest
  3. Respiration rate of over 40-50 breaths per minute that does not decrease after a few minutes of rest
  4. Lethargy
  5. Profuse sweating or absence of sweating

Ways to cool off your horse:

  1. Stop riding immediately and un-tack your horse.
  2. Move to a shady, breezy spot (use a fan if need be).
  3. Hose your horse with cold water (the coldest you can get and don’t worry, it won’t hurt his muscles), scrape and repeat. Concentrate on the largest muscle areas and large blood vessels that are close to the surface, such as the jugular vein and saphenous vein inside the thigh.
  4. Offer water and allow the horse to drink.
  5. Call your vet as soon as possible and give electrolytes as directed.


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