Equine Signs of Stroke

Updated November 21, 2016

Equine heatstroke is oftentimes the result of ignored dehydration and heat exhaustion in a horse. Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition that can result in death if not treated properly. Equine veterinary care should be sought immediately if a horse is suspected of suffering from heatstroke. Various symptoms present in a horse suffering from heatstroke, but these symptoms can be identified early on.

Identifying Stroke in Horses

Equine heatstroke is the result of a horse being dehydrated and suffering from heat exhaustion. Heatstroke can be deadly if left untreated. A horse suffering from heatstroke will present the symptoms of heat exhaustion as well as a lack of sweating, which is termed as "drying out."


The first symptom of heatstroke is dehydration. A dehydrated horse can be easily identified by pinching the skin of the horse's neck. A healthy, well hydrated horse's skin will bounce back right away. The skin of a horse that is suffering from dehydration will return to normal slower than usual. A dehydrated horse will also be fatigued and lethargic. It also might have a slow recovery from exercise.

Increased Heart and Respiratory Rate

Another symptom of heatstroke is an increased heart and respiratory rate. The normal respiratory rate is anywhere from four to 16 breaths per minute in an inactive horse. Anything more than this after a horse has been inactive for a few minutes is cause for alarm. The normal heart rate for a horse is between 38 and 40 beats per minute. Anything more than this in a calm, inactive horse might be a sign of heatstroke.

Elevated Body Temperature

An elevated body temperature is also a sign that a horse might be suffering from heatstroke. A horse's normal body temperature is 37.6 to 38.5 degrees C. Although weather can be a big factor in a horse's body temperature, a horse with a temperature of more than 38.9 degrees C should be checked for illness. The temperature of horses with heatstroke can reach as high as 42.8 degrees C. If the temperature stays this high for too long, the horse will die.

Thumping (Muscle Spasms)

A horse suffering from heatstroke will present symptoms called "thumping." This is recognised as spasms of the diaphragm and flank muscles. The horse might even collapse and convulse as a result of heatstroke.

Drying Out (Lack of Sweat Mechanism)

The horse might seem to lack a functioning sweat mechanism. It is logical to think that a horse that is overheated will sweat more than normal. However, because of the dehydration factor, the horse will not have enough fluids in its body. This will cause the horse's sweating mechanism to shut down. This lack of sweat is called "drying out," and it is a serious cause for concern.

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