What You Need to Know: Preventing Hypothermia in Horses

By Sharon Rogers
Preventing Hypothermia in Horses
Winter is coming! I can’t, honestly, say I am very happy about that fact. But considering that there is nothing I can do to change it, now is the time to think about “winterizing” your horse. Hypothermia in horses is a very real concern when the weather gets cold. My goal today is to give you some tips for preventing hypothermia and keeping your horse safe and warm, no matter how cold it gets outside.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is when a body temperature drops, significantly, lower than normal. Your horse should have a normal body temperature between 99.4 and 100.4 degrees. A core temperature below 99 degrees is considered hypothermia in horses. When hypothermia occurs it interferes with both metabolism and the basic function of all bodily systems. Respiration decreases, heart rates increase, major organs go into failure and, if not treated death will occur. This condition is preventable. Do not lose your precious animal because you failed to take the proper steps in preventing hypothermia.

Tips for Preventing Hypothermia

  1. The easiest way to prevent hypothermia is to keep your horse warm. If the weather is especially harsh bring horses inside. Invest in a warm blanket. Horses are mammals and they grow a warm winter coat, but that is not always enough. A blanket can help prevent hypothermia in horses but is not the only answer. Do not become complacent just because your horse is wearing a blanket. Be aware of weather conditions and of your horse’s behavior.
  2. If you notice your horse has become lethargic or seems to be taking shallow breaths and not moving around much bring him inside. Put the palm of your hand in a normally warm spot, such as the groin area, and check the temperature. If it feels warm the horse should be fine. If it feels cool to your hand then you need to take some action to warm up your horse.
  3. Keeping your animals dry is another important preventive measure when trying to prevent hypothermia in horses. Driving rain or snow along with cold winds can lower core temperatures dramatically. Make certain, if your horse will be left outside, that shelter is readily available. If you have smaller, younger horses it is important to be aware of how they interact with the other horses in your corral. There are instances when the bigger horses bully the smaller ones and won’t let them inside the shelter. Smaller animals will lose body temperature quicker than larger animals. Be sure there is ample space for all animals.
  4. If there are ponds or lakes on your property fence them off. Horses can lose their way if the weather changes and wind up in the pond, unable to get out. A fence that prevents access can be a life saver.
  5. Have heat available in your barn. Safety, fire safety in particular, is of the utmost importance so only use heat sources that have been proven safe and can be easily supervised. When you bring a horse in from the cold a warm barn area will help to dispel the chill, and ward off the potential dangers of hypothermia.
  6. Last, but not least, keep your horse healthy. A well taken care of horse, that eats a balanced diet and sees the vet regularly, will be less likely to suffer the effects of hypothermia than a horse who has compromised health.

What If…

If, regardless of your best efforts, your horse exhibits symptoms of hypothermia, call your vet. Mild hypothermia can often be alleviated by the warmth of the barn, passive external rewarming and a blanket. Reduction of temperature by more than a couple degrees will require more advanced remedies, such as warm fluid IV’s or lavage. This treatment should be overseen by medical professionals. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Hug your horse; it will help keep him warm.

For more information about ‘winterizing’ Your horse, check out this article I also recently wrote and let me know what you think:
Caring for Horses During Harsh Winter Months by Sharon Rogers

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