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Equine Hypothermia
 By Winniefield Park   •   21st Jan 2017   •   960 views   •   0 comments


A recent video of the rescue of a draft mare being pulled out of a frozen creek has gone somewhat viral. Seems the poor animal fell through the ice and couldn’t get out. A young man came across her after a neighbour reported the horse missing. The horse was in the water for over three hours, and by the time she was pulled out after a hard struggle for both humans and horses, was in bad shape.

News stories like this aren’t uncommon. Horses can slip into ponds because the banks are icy, walk onto barely frozen water because it looks like a solid surface, or snow hides the thin ice beneath. And, the temperatures don’t have to be frigid to be a danger. Being submerged in cold water or mud even though the temperatures are above freezing can bring on hypothermia. Prolonged exposure to cold rain can bring on hypothermia. And, if the air temperatures are really cold, you don’t even need to add water.

But there is no doubt that a wet outer surface will conduct heat away much faster than dry. Which is why a horse can survive sub-freezing temperatures as long as they are dry, but are in danger at the same temperatures when wet.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature dips below the normal internal temperature of a horse. A horse’s normal temperature is between 99.5-100.4° F (37.5 to 38C). Any temperature below 99.F C is considered to be hypothermia.

When hypothermia occurs, the horse’s circulation slows down. The horse will shiver as the body tries to rewarm. Frostbite can occur in thinly haired areas like the ears and nostrils. Organ failure can occur as the circulation becomes slower. The heart rate and breathing will slow, and if not rewarded, the animal can go into a coma.

When we get cold, often our instinct is to try to warm our hands and feet. Rubbing, or putting warm pads or clothes on in an effort to restore circulation seems to make sense, as that is where we feel the cold the most. And it’s likely we’ll do the same for an animal, trying to warm their legs by rubbing and wrapping. But, what really needs to be done is to warm the animal’s core. Warming the extremities first can be counterproductive because it can pull warmth away from the horse’s core. So first-aid for a horse in danger of hypothermia involves warming them from the inside out. A horse can feel warm and dry on the outside, but their core temperature may still be too low.

Warming a horse from the inside out must be done by a veterinarian. Rewarming requires warm intravenous fluids, nasogastric tubing of warm fluids into the stomach and warm enemas. This has to be done very carefully, as rewarming too quickly can put the horse in danger. The horse must be kept warm externally too, as the body temperature can dip if the warming is not maintained. The horse must be monitored for at least twenty-four hours after the rewarming process has begun, and in more severe cases, it may take several days for the horse to fully recover.

Of course, very young, senior, malnutritioned horses and those with existing health problems are most susceptible to hypothermia, and may be less likely to recover well.

The mare that was pulled from the creek s thought to be recovering well. Let’s hope that the efforts of the rescue team have been successful, and she is now happily munching hay with her herd mates.
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