Validity of a behavioural measure of heat stress and a skin tent test for dehydration in working horses and donkeys.Equine Vet J 2006; 38(5):433-8EV
REASONS FOR PERFORMING STUDY
Dehydration and heat stress are serious welfare issues for equids working in developing countries. There is a lack of any standardised method or validated interpretation of the skin tent test in horses and donkeys. Owners of dehydrated and heat-stressed animals often depend on veterinary examination for identification of these conditions, leading to delays in treatment and unnecessary reliance on external sources to effect welfare improvement.
To validate a standardised skin tent test for dehydration and a behavioural measure of heat stress in working equids; and to examine the effect of heat stress and dehydration on tripping and staggering behaviour.
The study was carried out on 130 working horses and donkeys in Pakistan. Associations between skin tent and blood parameters (packed cell volume [PCV], serum total protein [TP], serum osmolality), clinical parameters, resting and drinking behaviour were examined. Heat stress behaviour (increased respiratory rate and depth, head nodding, flared nostrils, apathy) was observed in conjunction with rectal temperature. Tripping and staggering were assessed using a simple obstacle course.
In both species, heat stress behaviour was significantly associated with increased rectal temperature (P<0.001). A positive skin tent test was not significantly associated with PCV or TP, although in donkeys it was significantly associated with lower serum osmolality (P<0.001). More animals age >15 years had a positive skin tent than those in younger age groups (P = 0.037). Very thin horses were more likely to have a positive skin tent than those in thin or moderate condition (P = 0.028). There was no significant correlation between skin tent and tripping or staggering in either species.
CONCLUSIONS AND POTENTIAL RELEVANCE
Heat stress behaviour is related to increased body temperature in working horses and donkeys. Owners may use this to make judgements regarding rest and cooling, precluding the need to seek veterinary attention. The skin tent test for dehydration used in this study did not show a significant relationship with PCV or TP. However, the use of blood parameters to validate the skin tent test may be confounded by anaemia, hypoproteinaemia or electrolyte depletion. Alternative methods are needed to confirm or refute the validity of the skin tent test in working equids.