Heat stroke in horses is life threatening

Published 4:40 pm Wednesday, April 28, 2010

To the Editor:

I felt compelled to respond to the comments made by owner Nick Larson, regarding his horse, Regality, in the April 21st edition of The Bulletin.

While I am delighted, as all horse lovers are, that Regality seems to have completely recovered, I felt a correction needs to be made regarding Mr Larkins explanation, in which he states, While initially we feared the worst, Regality was only suffering from heat stroke.

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While I dont believe Mr. Larkin meant to brush off the consequences of heat stroke by using the word, only, it is important, I feel, that horse owners are fully aware that heat stroke in horses, as in humans, is a life-threatening condition with deadly results if left untreated. The following information was supplied by the website for the University of Illinois Veterinary School:

Heatstroke is not just a summer disease. It happens in the spring and fall too. It is worse in the summertime, when it is hot and humid, says Dr. Jonathan Foreman, equine veterinarian at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine at Urbana, but it can happen anytime.

The biggest risk factor is being unfit. The backyard horse is more at risk than the competitive horse because it is less likely to be fit, he adds. The ability to lose heat is related to body size and shape. Physiologically, heat retention is a function of body mass or volume and heat loss is function of body surface area. A larger animal has a larger volume-to-surface area ratio and better heat retention. A big heavy horse will overheat faster than a small fit one. That is one reason Arabs are good endurance horses, says Dr. Foreman.

It is also why most Olympic three-day event horses are Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred crosses as opposed to strictly warm bloods.

Signs of heatstroke are unexpected fatigue, possibly stumbling, and an increased respiratory rate. Horses normally lose heat by sweating. When they are overheated, they pant in order to lose more heat. If the respiratory rate becomes higher than the heart rate, especially after resting for a few minutes, then the horse is overheated and needs help.

Heres hoping everyone will exercise caution and horse sense in the coming months.

Pam Stone