Last Updated on October 26, 2022
Excessive sweating in horses is a common problem that can occur for many reasons. Horses need to sweat and this is a natural process that helps to cool the body down. However, in some situations, this process malfunctions and the horse sweats more than normal.
Let’s find out everything you need to know about the reasons behind excessive sweating in horses!
Why Do Horses Sweat?
Sweating is a completely normal and vital bodily function of horses, and a healthy horse will sweat in order to regulate its body temperature. This is a process called thermoregulation and enables the horse to cool its body down. So you will often find that horses will sweat during periods of hot weather and high humidity, or during and after intense exercise.
How much a horse sweats will depend on how much it needs to cool down, how fit it is, and the weather conditions. For example, an unfit horse that is exercised in the height of summer may sweat profusely. A fit horse that is exercised during the cooler winter months may not sweat at all.
When a horse carries out any physical work, the muscles produce high levels of heat. This can be up to 50 times higher than a horse at rest, and they can reduce over two-thirds of this excess heat by sweating.
How Do Horses Sweat?
Sweat is produced by sweat glands that lie within the skin’s surface. These are more concentrated in certain areas, which is why horses tend to sweat more on some areas of the body than others. The main areas of sweat production include the neck and chest, and you will also see sweat produced underneath the saddle and bridle, where moisture cannot evaporate.
If the horse becomes very hot, sweat will also be produced by the legs, in the groin area, and over the rump. This is an indication that the horse is getting too hot and could be in danger of getting heat stroke.
In warm weather or high-intensity exercise, a horse may lose up to four gallons of water in an hour through sweating. Sweat helps to cool the body down as it takes heat away through evaporation. If sweat cannot evaporate, the horse will not lose heat as easily.
For sweating to be effective, there needs to be air movement around the body. A hot horse will normally seek out an area of shade with a cool airflow. High levels of humidity can also prevent sweat from evaporating as effectively.
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What Causes Excessive Sweating In Horses?
Although there are some illnesses and medications that can cause excessive sweating in horses, the most common reason is over-exercise in hot or humid weather conditions. If a horse is unaccustomed to hard physical exercise, the muscles will have to work very hard and will produce a lot of heat. The horse will sweat large quantities of fluid in an attempt to keep the body cool.
You will often see this type of sweating occurring in top-level equine athletes. This is because they are being pushed to the very brink of their physical ability during competitions and events. It is never advisable to work your horse so hard that he sweats this much during his day-to-day exercise.
When a horse sweats excessively, it loses large amounts of fluid that will need to be replaced. Sweat also contains electrolytes, which is why it has a salty taste. These losses are easily replaced if a horse sweats a small amount during his day-to-day exercise.
However, if a horse sweats excessively or for a long period of time, the metabolic systems within the body can become imbalanced. The horse may become dehydrated and is at high risk of hypothermia. In this situation, urgent medical treatment is required to replace lost fluids and electrolytes in a safe and rapid manner.
Which Antibiotics Cause Excessive Sweating In Horses?
There are no licensed antibiotics that are thought to cause excessive sweating in horses, but some antibiotics used in other animals may cause this problem. Excessive sweating is one of the symptoms noted in horses that have eaten animal feed that is contaminated with certain antibiotics. These are called ionophore antibiotics and are used to treat parasitic diseases in cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry.
There are also some antibiotics that cause the opposite problem and stop horses from sweating altogether. Reduced or no sweat production, called anhydrosis, can occur in foals that have been treated with a group of antibiotics called macrolides. These are commonly used to treat Rhodococcus equi, a highly infectious disease of foals that can cause pneumonia.
Why Does Anemia Cause Sweating In Horses?
Anemia is not commonly thought to cause sweating in horses, but there is one type of anemia-rated related disorder which may cause excessive sweating. One of the main symptoms of equine infectious anemia (EIA) is sweating, along with a fever, increased respiratory rate, depression, and weight loss.
Does Cushing’s Disease Make Horses Sweat?
Cushing’s disease is a common reason for a horse sweating at rest. So, if your horse is approaching his teenage years and you find that he starts sweating for no reason, it may be advisable to ask your veterinarian to perform a test for Cushing’s disease.
The unusual thing about horses with Cushing’s disease is that they often also develop patchy sweating over different areas of the body. This is in part due to the thick curly coat associated with Cushing’s disease in horses, but also because the metabolic processes within the body are imbalanced.
Summary – Excessive Sweating In Horses
So, as we have learned, there are many different causes of excessive sweating in horses. A normal healthy horse may sweat if it is required to carry out strenuous exercise during warm weather or high humidity. There are also some diseases of horses that cause excessive sweating, such as Cushing’s disease.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on excessive sweating in horses! Do you find your horse sweats a lot no matter what you do? Or maybe you’ve got some questions about the best way to care for a horse that sweats more than normal? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE