Treating Large Animals during Periods of Excessive Heat

Humans and companion animals are not the only ones affected by excessive heat. The combined effects of high ambient air temperatures, relative humidity, and solar radiation also can have a profound effect on large animal patients. Below are some actions to consider when boarding or treating large animal patients on site or in the field.

Considerations for On-Site Care

Large animal veterinarians who have patients in their care, custody, and control that are housed outside, such as for hospitalization or boarding for reproductive procedures, should always provide ample sources of fresh water and shade to prevent dehydration and heat stroke.

If your patients are suffering subclinically from heat stress, additional handling and treatment could result in full-blown heatstroke and catastrophic losses. Consider reviewing your animal bailee coverage with an insurance professional to ensure you are adequately protected before temperatures start to rise.

Beating the Heat on Farm Calls

Whether you are treating an animal in a field, barn, or stable, as the attending veterinarian, you are responsible for the health and welfare of the animal as well as any team members and volunteers who are assisting you. That’s why it is essential to account for the effects of extreme weather when conducting an examination or administering a treatment.

Consider adjusting your work schedule during the hottest months. For example, when scheduling farm calls, focus on treating patients in the early morning hours, before temperatures rise. You also may consider rescheduling non-emergency patient visits for cooler times of the day – or once the heatwave has passed.

If rescheduling is not an option, it is important to take extra precautions to protect the health of the animals. Heat stress can occur very quickly in cattle and other large animal patients during processing and treatment if holding pens and chutes are not in shaded areas. Anesthetized patients also can overheat quickly while recumbent, especially when exposed to direct sunlight. Whenever possible, prepare for and provide resources such as misting equipment, tarps, and an ample source of cool water to treat over-heated patients in the field.

The Danger Is Real

Large animal veterinarians insured through the AVMA Trust’s PLIT program have faced malpractice claims related to patient losses from heatstroke after anesthesia in the field and while treating patients in excessively hot weather. To review or adjust your coverage limits, contact AVMA PLIT at or 800-228-PLIT (7548), option 2.