Don’t Miss the Signs of Inefficient Sweating: Here’s a Checklist.

June 25, 2013

Summertime – and the livin’ is NOT always easy for horse owners and trainers. With the hottest temperatures of the year just around the corner, it’s more important than ever to know if a horse is sweating adequately and, if not, to correct the problem.

Like humans, horses need to sweat in order to regulate their body temperature and keep them cool. This natural cooling system not only needs to operate, it needs to operate at peak efficiency whether in temperature extremes or after the exertion of exercise or work.

When a horse doesn’t sweat at all after a workout, not even under the tack, something is seriously wrong. This condition is called anhidrosis or non-sweating. Not all sweating problems are obvious, though.

It’s easy to miss the signs and not notice indications of inefficient sweating.  And you wouldn’t want to treat the horse for other problems such as respiratory or skin issues when inefficient sweating could well be the underlying cause of those conditions.

Left untreated, inefficient sweating can cause the horse to overheat and will affect performance immediately. It can also compromise a horse’s long-term level of health. Like heat stroke in humans, at its most severe, it can be fatal.

As a result, we’ve compiled a simple, 3-point checklist to help you identify sweating problems so they may be caught early and treated promptly.

1.Take the horse’s temperature at rest, after exercise and at intervals after exercise.
This is the first thing to check because the relationship between sweat and body temperature can help determine whether or not the horse is sweating efficiently.

Normal temperature for a resting horse is 99.5° to 100.5° F (37.5° to 38°C).  During a workout, the temperature may rise to 103.3°F (39.6°C) but should not exceed 104.9°F (40.5°C).  The temperature should fall quickly when exercise has stopped.  If the temperature remains elevated for too long, the horse may not be sweating properly.  A rectal temperature of greater than 104.9°F (40.5°C) is serious and steps should be taken to cool the horse quickly.  Keep in mind that every horse can overheat when it’s too hot and humid or conditions are unsafe to work a horse.

2. Look for signs of sweat over the horse’s entire body, even the lower legs.
After a good workout, a horse should sweat everywhere, even on its lower legs. If you don’t see sweat there, the horse isn’t sweating as well as he should.  If you’re not sure, exercise with horse boots or wraps so sweat can accumulate and be easier to see.

Horses in arid climates may sweat well but the evidence evaporates so quickly, it’s harder to see. After a good workout, however, a properly sweating horse in an arid climate will accumulate sweat under the tack and even under boots on the lower legs.

3. Be alert to other conditions. They may indicate that sweating is the real problem.
Labored breathing is a natural response to overheating and can be misdiagnosed as a respiratory issue or the result of poor fitness. Always check for signs of poor sweating and treat that first.

Sweat contains salts that have an antimicrobial effect on a horse’s skin. If a horse’s coat is dull or the skin is scaly, it may be because the horse isn’t sweating or is a patchy sweater so those salts aren’t being delivered to the skin to protect against microbial attack. Again, check for signs of poor sweating and treat that first.

When in doubt about sweating, go through the checklist again, especially if a horse has been shipped to a new climate or as the seasons change.  A horse that sweats well in winter can become a non-sweater in summer.

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