URGENT CARE: Excessive Sweating, Flared Nostrils
- Panic level: Yellow (caution) to Red (emergency)
- Causes: Many and varied
- Immediate Action: Cool hosing while scraping, cease activity, track recovery
- Call your vet: If muscle twitches are seen, sweating suddenly stops, signs of tying-up or thumps show up
- Prevention: If due to poor conditioning, plan an exercise program to gradual build your horse's fitness; if caused by one of the ?zebras? treat as needed.
Horses sweat. it's a simple fact. Horses breathe hard after tough exercise. it's expected. There are cases, though, where sweating and increased breathing may indicate a problem.
A horse's sweat will generally be clear, not lathered (except between the hind legs where it's commonly lathered). An exception to this rule would be a truly tough workout, such as a three-day-event cross-country run or a race.
The horse's breathing rate will be increased, but the normal horse will recover as he walks out. Hot temperatures and high humidity do make your horse work harder. However, if your horse gets all lathered after a short workout, he may be out of condition, a heavily muscle-bound horse or a stressed nervous-type horse.
If your horse is overly hot, horse him off, scraping the water off quickly. Continue this until he cools. If you're indoors, put a fan on your horse and if outdoors, get him into the shade. (Do not cover him with a cooler or anti-sweat sheet, as these just make him warmer.) You can track recovery by watching for urination and following respiration rates (write them down). With severe problems, your veterinarian will need to take blood samples to check electrolyte levels.
Equine sweat differs from human sweat. Our sweat has a high percentage of water. This stimulates us to drink, and we restore the balance of our systems. Horse sweat has a higher percentage of electrolytes, especially sodium, potassium and chloride. it's the horse's salt intake that makes him drink.
Horse sweat is closer to blood composition or ?isotonic.? A horse can, with prolonged heavy sweating, change his electrolyte balance and may need veterinarian-administered IV fluids to restore balance.
If your horse regularly works hard, an electrolyte supplement may be a good idea. You should ensure that your horse is consuming adequate salt, a basic ?electrolyte.?
Thumps, a flutter of the horse's sides and diaphragm, along with tying-up (see p. 1) or rhabdomyolysis, can result from this electrolyte imbalance. If your horse shows either of these problems along with the sweating, you need to contact your veterinarian.
Worse than lathered sweating is the absence of sweating after hard work. These horses are generally severely dehydrated and will need veterinary care and plenty of IV fluids. If your horse never sweats, he may have anhidrosis, a serious chronic condition that can come on suddenly. It requires your vet?s help.
Two of the ?zebras? that might cause excessive sweating include botulism and Cushing?s disease. Horses with botulism generally show other severe neurologic signs such as trouble swallowing, standing or moving. The usual cause is feed contaminated with animal carcasses. Botulism tends to be a regional problem. It can be difficult and expensive to treat, so if you live in an area that tends to have cases of equine botulism, your veterinarian may suggest vaccination.
Cushing?s disease can also lead to heavy sweating. Cushing?s disease is an older-horse problem with the pituitary gland near the brain that controls the hormone ACTH. ACTH stimulates cortisol production in the adrenal glands. Horses with Cushing?s disease produce too much cortisol. Owners tend to notice an unusually thick hair coat and/or failure to shed. Horses tend to lose muscle mass and may be susceptible to founder and infections. Diagnosis is made via blood samples.
Article by Contributing Veterinary Editor Dr. Deb Eldredge.?