Turn up the heat
Summers brings new healthcare challenges for horse owners and this month, Let’s Talk Horses investigates seasonal ailments, discussing what you should be aware of and ways of reducing their impact.
The arrival of summer brings with it the obvious physical changes in your horse’s environment; more hours of sunshine, high temperatures, humidity and less rainfall, all of which are likely to have an impact of your horse’s condition. A welcoming change from the depths of winter, but the summer brings with it a new variety of ailments to look out for.
High temperatures can lead to dehydration and hypothermia as fluid and electrolyte losses are increased during strenuous exercise. As with a human athlete, get your horse acclimatised to summer temperatures by getting him fit gradually in the spring and early summer before the higher temperatures arrive. Ensure that extra fresh water is available and provide electrolytes in the feed or water if competing. Be particularly careful when humidity is high as it reduces your horse’s ability to lose heat and potentially increases chances of hyperaemia.
High temperatures and humidity can cause a proliferation of Dermatophilus bacteria which causes rain scald, a bacterial condition of the skin. But also the warmth of summer obviously causes insect problems from midges (Culicoides) causing sweet itch, which manifests as an allergic dermatitis in the mane and tail and sometimes on the belly. Botflies are also prevalent at this time of year and these lay eggs on the coat which are then ingested and develop into larvae in the stomach.
Problems associated with plant growth, from the pollens they produce, to other substances that trigger an allergic response should be considered. These can cause problems affecting the respiratory system (allergic airway disease) right through to localised skin reactions. Head shaking can also be worsened by inhaled pollens. Remember too that increased sugar content in summer grass is also a trigger for laminitis.
The most problematic summer ailments that you may face as a horse owner is sun burn. Although extremely common and relatively easy to prevent, sun burn often occurs on areas of your horse which are constantly being used and rubbed, meaning sun cream has to be regularly applied. Providing shade in the field or stable and considering the application of sun block lotions on areas of skin with no pigment and less hair cover – on the face mainly but also lower legs and heels even around penis and vulva – will all help to prevent UV exposure.
Horses suffer from a range of tumours that are traditionally caused by exposure to UV radiation in humans but this is less likely the case in horses. UV exposure can be a factor in squamous cell carcinomas, especially of the eye area in pink/albino horses – hence the need to protect the eye area during strong light periods. However, it is unclear if it has a role in equine melanoma or sarcoids as most appear in areas that are not exposed to the sun.
For sunburn prevention, ingredients that totally reflect the sun are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – both of these ingredients are used in some human sun preparations and are non-absorbing, hence the white colouring.
While sun block should be considered a priority for your horse, especially if they are pink skinned, allergic reactions to creams should also be considered, especially if your horse has sensitive skin.
Mending the cracks
The hot dry weather can also wreak havoc with your horse’s hooves so Marcus offers some advice to deal with this problem: “Obviously the hoof wall tends to be more prone to cracking in hot dry weather. However, rather than applying lots of oils look at the basics. Invest in good farriery but avoid extra rasping of the hoof wall; potentially introduce a feed supplement if hoof wall quality is not good, such as biotin, and avoid going from extremes of soaking wet to drying out completely which promotes cracking.
These are some of the more common ailments, but is by no means an exhaustive list. It may be impossible to entirely prevent some of these summer ailments but their impact can be greatly reduced by common sense and changes in management. If you do have any concerns about your horse’s health this summer we advise contacting your Veterinary Surgeon.