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  • Writer's pictureJenna Tolson

The Summer Horse Vet Check: Vet Tips for a Healthy Season

As the summer season unfolds, the health and well-being of our horses come to the forefront of our priorities. With the guidance of respected equine veterinarians Doctors Vicky Johnson, Grace Owen, and Alison Roth, this article aims to highlight the critical health checks and preventative measures necessary for maintaining the health of our equine partners during the warmer months. Focusing on hydration, heat stress management, and overall wellness, our experts offer insights to keep your horse healthy and strong throughout the season.

Spring Wellness Care and Preventative Measures

Transitioning from the cooler days of spring into the heat of summer requires foresight and planning. Dr. Vicky Johnson emphasizes the importance of updating your horses' dental care and vaccinations early in the season. "Get teeth and shots up to date early in the season" Johnson advises, suggesting a discussion with your vet about necessary risk-based vaccines considering the horse's home and travel schedule. Core vaccinations against eastern and western encephalitis, West Nile virus, tetanus, and rabies are recommended, alongside influenza and herpes virus vaccines. For show horses with a history of lameness, a thorough check-up is advisable to address any issues before they escalate. Managing seasonal allergies, scheduling routine care for farrier, chiropractic, and acupuncture, and ensuring gut health are also vital to ready your horse for summer.

Hydration and Heat Stress: A Deep Dive

With the groundwork for seasonal wellness laid, the focus shifts to the critical issue of hydration and heat stress—a significant concern during summer's peak. The combination of high temperatures and increased activity can significantly increase the risk of dehydration and heat stress in horses. Proper hydration is not just about water intake; it involves a careful balance of electrolytes, which are crucial for maintaining a horse's fluid balance, nerve function, and muscle activity.

Water is the most essential nutrient for horses, especially during summer. A horse's requirement for water can double in hot weather, from a baseline of at least 5-10 gallons a day to 20 gallons or more. Signs of dehydration include a dry mouth, sunken eyes, lethargy, and a capillary refill time of more than two seconds. A simple skin pinch test can also indicate hydration levels; skin that does not quickly snap back is a sign of dehydration.

Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium, and chloride, lost through sweat. These need to be replenished to prevent imbalances that can lead to lethargy, muscle weakness, and in severe cases, colic. Electrolyte supplements should be considered for horses that sweat heavily, but they should never replace free access to clean, fresh water.

Heat stress occurs when a horse's body temperature rises due to environmental heat and exercise. Symptoms include excessive sweating, rapid breathing, elevated heart rate, and in severe cases, collapse. Management strategies include providing shade, ample ventilation, and scheduling exercise during cooler parts of the day. Cooling methods, such as hosing down or providing fans, can also help regulate body temperature.

Dr. Grace Owen points out the unique susceptibility of horses to heat stress, noting, "Horses are more susceptible to heat stress than humans. This is a two-fold problem. First, they have more muscle mass which produces more heat and secondly, they sweat a lot but evaporation is less efficient, so they can't cool as fast." Recognizing the signs of heat stress, which can include body temperatures ranging from 102-105 degrees Fahrenheit, high respiratory rates, excessive sweating or lack of it, and signs of weakness or stumbling, is essential for timely intervention.

Owen further elaborates on the importance of environmental awareness, "As a quick reference, you can combine temperature with humidity percentage to determine the safety of riding. If below 130, your horse should regulate body temperature well. Above 150, it is harder for your horse to thermoregulate so be cautious. Above 180, it is difficult for them to stay cool." She emphasizes the adaptability of horses to varying conditions, advocating for electrolyte supplementation, access to fresh, cool water, and scheduling training during cooler parts of the day to mitigate the risks.

Addressing Anhidrosis: Anhidrosis, or the inability to sweat, is a condition that can severely affect a horse's ability to regulate its body temperature, leading to overheating. Signs include dry skin despite hot weather, increased respiratory rate without physical exertion, and poor performance. Managing anhidrosis involves reducing stress, optimizing living conditions to minimize heat exposure, and using supplements designed to support sweat production. In severe cases, veterinary intervention may be necessary to manage the condition and prevent heat stroke.

Dr. Alison Roth addresses the critical aspect of underlying medical conditions that can exacerbate heat stress. She advises, "Address any underlying medical conditions such as PPID/Cushing's, anhidrosis (non-sweaters), and PSSM/IM horses. Hydration and proper electrolyte balance are paramount, especially in horses that don't sweat well." Roth highlights the importance of long warm-ups and cool-downs, ensuring the horse gets cool for a few hours a day, and maintaining a diet that supports their condition, including low starch feeds and vitamin E supplements for muscle health.

Preventive Measures: Ensuring a Cool Summer

Building on the expert advice provided, implementing preventive measures is the final step in safeguarding against the summer heat. Ensuring that horses have unlimited access to water and consider using fresh, cool water to encourage drinking. Monitor weather conditions and adjust workloads accordingly, and acclimate horses to heat gradually. Additionally, incorporating regular breaks and employing cooling techniques post-exercise can help prevent overheating. Owen also suggests you consider hauling at night or early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day.

Roth warns us to not forget that horses are athletes and need to maintain fitness to be able to show and compete. “They should be worked a minimum of 4 days a week. If they have time off they should spend twice as long as the time off to get back into shape. For example if you give a horse 2 weeks off the horse should have 4 weeks to get back into show shape.”

Lastly, seasonal allergies and summer sores can be more prevalent during the warm summer months. Johnson recommends you address allergies well in advance as they can be hard to manage once show season gets going due to the medication and drug-testing rules. Roth shares that summer sores occur often during fly season. Proper hygiene (clean legs and stalls) and wrapping open cuts so that flies cannot lay eggs within the exposed tissue reduces the risk. She recommends wrapping legs with polo

wraps on horses that interfere (legs that hit one another) for every ride to eliminate the possibility of creating an open wound.

Conclusion and Checklist for Summer Horse Health

As we navigate the challenges of keeping our horses healthy and vibrant during the summer, it's essential to remember the key points and actionable steps shared by Drs. Vicky Johnson, Grace Owen, and Alison Roth. This checklist serves as a quick reference to ensure your horse's well-being in the warmer months:

  • Spring Wellness Preparation:

    • Update dental care and vaccinations.

    • Discuss risk-based vaccines with your vet.

    • Address lameness and seasonal allergies early.

    • Schedule routine care (farrier, chiropractic, acupuncture).

    • Assess and manage gut health to prevent gastric ulcers.

  • Hydration and Heat Stress Management:

    • Ensure constant access to fresh, cool water.

    • Balance electrolytes lost through sweat.

    • Provide shade and ventilation, exercise during cooler times.

  • Understanding and Addressing Anhidrosis:

    • Recognize signs (dry skin, increased respiratory rate).

    • Reduce stress, optimize living conditions.

    • Consult a vet for severe cases.

  • Monitoring for Underlying Conditions:

    • PPID/Cushing's, PSSM/IM horses require special attention.

    • Maintain proper hydration and electrolyte balance.

  • Preventive Measures for a Cool Summer:

    • Unlimited access to water.

    • Adjust workloads based on weather, gradually acclimate to heat.

    • Consider cooler transport times; maintain regular exercise.

  • Managing Seasonal Challenges:

    • Address allergies and summer sores proactively.

    • Employ proper hygiene and protective measures.

Meet Our Panel of Experts

  • Dr. Vicky Johnson, DVM, CVMPP, hails from southwest Ohio and brings her expertise to the Cleveland Equine Clinic in Ravenna, Ohio. Her background and practice in this vibrant community highlight her commitment to equine health and wellness.

  • Dr. Grace Owen, DVM, grew up in Alabama as her backdrop and now serves the equine community at Great Plains Veterinary Services in Arcadia, Oklahoma. Her Southern roots and experience add a unique perspective to our panel.

  • Dr. Alison Roth is the driving force behind Athletic Equine Veterinary Services in Benson, North Carolina. With a focus on sports medicine, Dr. Roth travels extensively to AQHA shows across the country, offering top-tier care. Having founded her practice in 2020 after years with Hassinger Equine, she brings a wealth of experience and dedication to equine athletes.



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