Sweating is an important function of the horse’s body during hot weather and/or exertion to keep him from becoming too hot. A small amount of body heat is removed through air exchange via the respiratory system, but more than 70% of excess body heat is dissipated by sweat evaporating from the skin. Some horses in hot climates lose their ability to sweat (anhidrosis) and are at risk for heat stress and heat stroke.
Horses occasionally develop inflammation and ulceration of the gut lining, most commonly in the stomach (gastric ulcers). Colitis, or inflammation of the colon, is rarer, but can be very serious. For some reason, this problem tends to occur more in the right dorsal colon.
As we continue to explore basic vital signs that help you and your veterinarian assess a horse’s health, let’s examine another critical parameter: intestinal activity. This is evaluated by listening to gut sounds using a stethoscope placed in the flank area on both sides of a horse, in each of four quadrants.
Most young stallions that begin a breeding career have already proven themselves in a racing career. If the young horse has done well on the racetrack during his 2- and 3-year-old years, for instance, he may begin breeding mares as a 4-year-old. Before entering the breeding shed, he needs some re-training, a fertility evaluation, and some time to refocus on his new job and prepare for his first breeding season.
Occasionally a mare foals too early, and the foal is premature. Foals born at less than 320 days’ gestation are considered premature, and chances for survival decrease considerably if a foal comes earlier than 300 days. These foals are not ready for life outside the uterus, and usually need intensive care to survive.
It seems fitting to walk you through some basic evaluations you can do on your horse when you think he may be out of sorts. This provides you and your veterinarian with specific information that may need to be acted on immediately. In this first installment, let’s focus on mucous membranes.
There are times when a horse suddenly develops hives for no specific reason. Such a hypersensitivity response to a non-infectious cause is referred to as an allergy, which can range from a serious, life‑threatening systemic reaction (anaphylaxis), to a mild, but disagreeable, skin reaction, such as hives or itching.
Not only is an adequate supply of food necessary to maintain a horse’s body condition, but the teeth must be able to properly grind the feed to make full use of the diet you provide.
Domestic horses exhibit a number of behavioral problems that are never seen in wild, free-roaming horses. This is generally because we keep our horses in an artificial environment and don’t allow them to live ‘normal’ lives.
Medications that relieve pain are commonly used for equine athletes to address musculoskeletal issues. Such anti-inflammatory drugs do just that – reduce inflammation and mitigate pain. The most commonly used medications are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These drugs are also the ones used to help reduce discomfort in a horse that is experiencing gastrointestinal upset, like colic. But there are some things you might want to know about casual use of NSAIDs, particularly
The horse has three bones in each lower leg between the knee/hock and fetlock joint. The cannon bone is the largest, and the main support for the limb. The two small splint bones, which are finger size in diameter, are long and slender and are attached to the cannon bone on each side and toward the rear.
A horse demonstrating signs of heat stress – either subtle or obvious – could signal impending metabolic collapse. If any of these signs are seen, then it is necessary to stop the horse’s exercise immediately and begin implementing cooling strategies, described below. If the horse’s rectal temperature does not begin to return to normal within 15 minutes or so, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.
Not all horses have the luxury of spending time on green pasture, head down, grazing to their heart’s content. Horses in race training are usually stabled in restrictive living arrangements with their primary forage source as hay. Yet, the healthiest strategy for equine gastrointestinal health is the ability to eat small amounts at intermittent intervals throughout the day.
Intramuscular injections occasionally cause local abscesses if the needle or skin is dirty when the injection is given. Sometimes, abscesses occur even with very clean conditions. The worst kind of injection-induced infection is called clostridial myositis, or myonecrosis.
Most equine births are accomplished with no problems. The mare goes into active labor, breaks her water, lies down and almost immediately, the foal’s front feet appear, followed by his nose and head. With a few forceful contractions, the mare delivers the foal and the second stage of labor is complete. Occasionally, however, there are problems that hinder the progression, resulting in a life-threatening emergency.
Careful observation, thorough examination, and persistence are necessary in working up many lameness problems. Some problems can be diagnosed in a few minutes from the history and clinical examination; others require diagnostic local anesthesia (nerve blocks) and several hours of evaluation to determine the source of the lameness.
A racehorse must have “heart,” both figuratively and literally. Without a good heart, even the most well-conformed, ideal-looking young racing prospect might not be a winner. The size of a young horse’s heart has proven to be a reliable predictor of future performance, especially in horses that run longer distances. Quarter Horses need strong hearts, but size is just one important factor since they typically don’t run very long distances.
Lameness is a serious issue, particularly for an active equine athlete. Even the slightest amount of pain can impair performance, especially where seconds matter as in Quarter Horse racing. Most equine lameness in the front legs – up to 90% – is attributable to problems in the lower limb from the fetlock down. That said, a variety of injuries can occur within the knee (carpal) joints and surrounding soft tissues.
There can be various reasons why horses go “off feed,” so it’s important to find out what’s wrong. Some horses are simply fussy eaters and it can be difficult to find ways to get them to eat enough.
One of the more dreaded health problems faced by horse owners and trainers is colic. It is possible for equine colic to develop into a more serious crisis that requires surgery or could even be fatal.