Helping Your Animals - Beat the heat

Published on Thu, 07/17/2014 - 9:14am

Summer is a good time to pull on your sunglasses, break out the bug spray, and hit the lake or the beach. For your animals, dealing with the summer temperatures isn’t quite as straightforward, making it important to have a plan for how to help them cope.

There are a few basic themes to keep in mind across species: the symptoms of heat stroke for many species include lethargy, drooling, stumbling, confusion, increased respiration, increased rectal temperature, and (sometimes) stomach upset. If you see an animal showing signs of heatstroke, it’s best to act quickly to help the animal and to cool them gradually. Once they are stable, they should be seen by a veterinarian. In all cases, untreated heatstroke can lead to serious neurological damage and even death.

Most animals can handle warm days, but temperatures may periodically climb above average for your area. Listen to local authorities’ advisories for pets when heat indexes—and especially humidity—are high. Keep in mind that especially young, old, or sick animals might have a harder time than healthy adults.

Horses
Some breeds of horses are better equipped to deal with hot weather than others—Arabians for example, originate from hot climates—while many pony breeds hail from cold climates. Hundreds of generations later, their weather tolerances are still attuned to their original environments.
Many owners change their horse’s turnout schedule to keep out of the sun in the hottest part of the day. If the air is stagnant or if humidity readings are especially high inside the barn, a fan can help keep them comfortable. Unlike other species, horses sweat, and the sweat’s evaporation off their coat creates a cooling sensation. In high humidity the sweat can’t evaporate, and instead acts as an insulator.
For horses who live outside all the time, a run-in shed or line of trees can provide much-appreciated shade.
With summer temperatures come insects. There are a variety of sprays, gels, sheets, masks, and even feed supplements available to deter flies and mosquitoes or shield horses from their piercing mouths. Buzzing insects aren’t just an annoyance—they can carry diseases, cause eye problems, or create infection in open sores or cuts.
All horses should have water available to them at all times. Adding an electrolyte supplement to a horse’s diet can help make up for the minerals he loses while sweating.
Experts say horses aren’t likely to suffer heatstroke unless they are working hard under tack or harness. If you become concerned about heat during a ride, remove all tack and hose the horse with cold water, being sure to scrape excess water out of the coat. Offer small amounts of water (about a third of a bucket at a time) as the horse cools down. If the horse’s skin (especially his chest) remains warm to the touch, repeat the process.

Cows
Cows and horses have similar challenges with high heat. Due to their ruminant nature and denser body mass, cows may struggle a little more than their long-nosed counterparts.
Cool water is thought to help bring down cattle’s internal temperatures. Providing shade to above-ground water lines and water sources can help cool water. Cows are thought to increase their water consumption about 2.5 times in a temperature change from 70°F to 95°F.
Rotating the herd to a field with taller grass provides them a cooler ground surface. A feed switch may be in order, too—corn and grains produce less heat as they are digested than silage. Remember that heavier cattle, especially those in late gestation, are likely to have the most trouble.
Also, when assisting overheated cattle, handle them gently, especially if they don’t interact with you often—panic can worsen the situation.

Sheep and Goats
Sheep and goats generally handle heat better than cattle, and goats have the easiest time of all, despite not sweating.
Perhaps counterintuitively, the sheep and goats with a light fleece or hair coat will do better than recently sheared animals, as the coats act as protection from the sun’s rays while dissipating heat. Shearing in the spring will allow them a light coat while setting them up for increased hair growth by winter, when they need it most.
The water needs of sheep can increase by as much as 12 times from winter to summer—especially if the available forage is dry.
Sheep and goats will decrease their grazing time during the warmest parts of the day in favor of staying in the shade resting. Avoid moving the animals during the warmest part of the day. It’s relatively unusual for sheep or goats to experience heat stroke, but if you see the classic signs, carefully move the animal to a well-ventilated area.
Sheep can be cooled by applying rubbing alcohol to the area between their rear legs—a network of blood vessels comes together there, and cooling the skin there can bring down the temperature of the blood. Do not spray sheep with water, as that will only reduce airflow through the wool. It is safe to run cool water over the goats.

Chickens
Some breeds of chicken are more tolerant of heat than others—those with larger combs seem to do best in warm weather. Chickens cannot sweat and instead pant, using the evaporation of moisture from their throats to cool themselves. The panting can alter their electrolyte balance, so adding an electrolyte supplement to their water can be helpful, too. Providing frozen fruit in ice cubes, or a cut watermelon can boost water intake as well.
Before the summer heat sets in, set up fans or misters in their yard to give them options when they become uncomfortable. Keeping up with regular maintenance in the yard becomes more critical in the summer, as well—decomposing litter can release heat, while tall grass and weeds can block airflow through the yard. It’s also a good time to improve ventilation in the hen house.
Like most animals, chickens won’t eat when bothered by heat, so it’s best to change their feeding times to the coolest points in the day.
In addition to the shakiness and weakness evident in other species, a pale comb or wattles and diarrhea can indicate heat stress in chickens. If you see a hen in heat stress, gently soak her in cool (but not ice) water and encourage her to drink.
As always, consult with your veterinarian to determine the best steps to prevent heat stroke in your animals and help create a treatment plan in case of emergency.