Heat Stroke in Horses

(from a petMD Newsletter)

Also known as heat exhaustion or hyperthermia, heat stroke is a condition that occurs with horses performing a great deal of work in excessively hot or humid conditions. When the horse is unable to lose body heat, its body temperature goes up rapidly, causing severe (and sometimes fatal) health concerns. Therefore, heat stroke must be treated promptly and properly.




Symptoms and Types

  • Restlessness/Lethargy
  • Rapid pulse and breathing
  • Heavy breathing/panting
  • Increased sweating
  • Excessive salivation
  • Redness of the tongue and oral area
  • High body temperature
  • Erratic heart beat
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stumbling gait
  • Collapse


Exposure to a very hot or humid environment, combined with inadequate ventilation, can lead to heat stroke. Other common causes include:

  • High level of physical stress
  • Excessive exercising
  • Increased weight (obesity)
  • Respiratory diseases


Heat stroke is not hard to diagnose at all. A horse that is overheated will act strangely and will display the symptoms listed above. If you suspect your horse is suffering from heat stroke, you must cool it down immediately and take it to a veterinarian for medical assistance.


Treatment for heat exhaustion must be done as quickly as possible in order for the horse to survive. Cold water should be applied to the skin, usually poured over the horse’s body; adding ice to the water can help in severe cases of heat stroke. Also, fanning the horse and guiding it to a shady area will assist in cooling the animal.

Heat stroke indicates a severe loss of electrolytes, so intravenous electrolyte administration is a critical part of the treatment process for heat exhaustion.


Heat stroke can be prevented by taking caution not to expose the horse to hot and humid conditions, especially if the animal is doing manual labor or when racing or riding. And be sure to provide plenty of water, as well as shade, to horses that roam out in the open for a long time.

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