Tuesdays with Tony
Welcome to August in Florida, friends, where stepping outside of the air conditioning is not unlike standing directly on the surface of the sun. Needless to say, I’ve been spending 99.9% of my time indoors recently. Do you ever stop and wonder how your horse is handling the heat? If you notice your horse breathing rapidly, flaring his nostrils, or acting lethargic in this ridiculous, scorching weather, give one of our docs a call. There could be an underlying medical condition that explains why he just can’t take the heat this year. Below are the 3 most common reasons our docs see for heat intolerance in horses here in sunny Florida.
One of the ways horses cool down, like many other animals, is through breathing. They breath hotter air out, and cooler air in, all day long. In addition to brutal, unrelenting rays of sun, heaves is another unwelcome visitor who rears his ugly head in the summertime. Heaves, a.k.a. Equine Asthma, a.k.a. Recurrent Airway Obstruction, is characterized by wheezing and an increased respiratory rate. Environmental allergens, many of which peak during the summer months, contribute greatly to the severity of heaves.
It follows that when you are having trouble breathing in the first place, it’s not easy to regulate your body temperature. Ask anybody you know who has asthma. Imagine how uncomfortable it would be to wheeze away from May until October! These horses also tend to lose a lot of weight in the summer months, because they are using up all of their calories simply trying to breathe.
If you suspect your horse may have heaves, it’s definitely important to have him examined. With the right medications, your horse should be back to breathing freely in no time. If your horse has been diagnosed with heaves in seasons past, it may be time to restart his treatment. Don’t worry, you should be able to wean him off all medications when (and if) the weather starts to cool down.
Is your horse a fuzzy wuzzy caterpillar? Excess hair in the summertime can also lead to overheating, because the heat generated by the horse’s body can’t escape. While a thick haircoat is a bit of a nuisance in the winter, it can be life-threatening in the heat of summer months. If your horse falls into this category, there are 2 things you should do.
First, call your vet to schedule an ACTH test to determine if that long haircoat is a sign of Cushing’s disease, or PPID. Remember, we can now test horses at any time throughout the year, so August is as good a month as any to get this testing done! If your horse has been diagnosed with Cushing’s disease in the past but he still grows a long haircoat despite medication, it may be worth it to re-test him to see if his dosage needs to be adjusted.
Once you have ruled out (or ruled in) Cushing’s disease, it is time for some body clipping! A good pair of clippers is an investment, but it’s well worth it. If you don’t feel comfortable clipping your own horse, or you are worried she will come out looking like she had an unfortunate run-in with the lawnmower, call the clinic for some recommendations of locals who would be more than happy to clip your horse for a couple bucks. I’m not giving you the name of my personal groomer though- that’s proprietary information.
Most of us have heard of non-sweaters, or anhidrosis. Read my kitty lips: it is a Pain. In. The. Tail! Sweating is the primary mechanism horses use to cool off. Horses have sweat glands all over their body, even in their frogs! When a horse doesn’t sweat, all of the heat that would be lost via evaporative cooling remains trapped beneath the skin. Horses with anhidrosis are absolutely miserable in the summer. Unfortunately, there are no great treatments for anhidrosis yet. Some horses seem to respond to beer (yup, one beer AM & PM), or a supplement called OneAC. However, there are a couple of things you can do to help cool your horse down even if your attempts to get him to sweat have all failed.
You can keep your horse under fans during the heat of the day. “Big Ass” brand fans work great for barns. You can invest in some misters to spray either in the pasture or in front of your horse’s stall. Note: I cannot guarantee that your horse will stand under the misters or fans. I have seen thousands of dollars invested in cooling mechanisms in Florida, only for the horse to choose to stand out in the middle of the open pasture during the heat of the day. But, at least you would be giving your hot horse the option! At the very least, your horse should be provided with an opportunity to get under some shade at all times of day. This may be in the form of a tree, a barn, or a run-in shed. There is a HUGE temperature difference between the sun and the shade in summer in Florida.
Hopefully I have given you a couple of ideas to help your hot horse beat the heat this summer. Please be aware of how your horse is faring in this unrelenting weather, especially if you have old timers or young foals, who tend to not handle temperature extremes as well. As always, I am available at the clinic if you need more advice, or if you just want to glimpse a very handsome cat enjoying the air conditioning.
P.S. Did you know my docs have a podcast? That’s right. It’s called Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth and you can find it wherever you get your podcasts. You can also listen right here on the website, right from your phone or computer. If you like learning about horses, you don’t want to miss it. Trust me, I’m a cat.
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Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!