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Combating Dehydration in Horses with Electrolytes

Dehydration in horses is a serious problem that can affect horses year round regardless of their workloads. Learn more about how choosing a quality electrolyte can help combat this preventable problem.

Most horse owners understand how critical it is to keep horses properly hydrated and know that an electrolyte can help. But do you know why hydration and electrolytes are so important for your horse? 

Dehydration in Horses

The average 1,000-pound horse requires about 24 quarts of water daily, or just over five gallons. If that stalled horse mentioned above only drank a gallon or two in a 24-hour period, he could be setting himself up for trouble. Your horse will likely drink more when it’s hot and/or humid, even if he isn’t working. Add exercise to the equation and your horse may drink even more, depending on the duration and intensity of his workout and the weather conditions.

The average 1,000-pound horse requires about 24 quarts of water daily

Your horse’s diet also greatly influences his water intake. A horse whose only forage is hay will drink more water than a horse grazing good pasture.

“What your horse is eating has a lot to do with how much he’s drinking. The average horse on a predominately hay diet will drink much more water than a horse on summer pasture. Grass can be as much as 90% moisture, while hay may contain less than 10%,” notes Hal Schott DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, a professor in the Large Animal Clinical Sciences Department at Michigan State University.

Unlike many other nutrients, horses do not readily store electrolytes in their body. It’s paramount that electrolytes lost in sweat are replaced.

While it’s easy to view dehydration as a hot-weather problem, the reality is that cold conditions and dry weather can also lead to dehydration in horses. Extremely cold conditions, frozen water buckets and a myriad of other causes may lead horses to drink less during the winter months, creating an opportunity for a host of health problems including dehydration and colic. 

Dangers of Dehydration

The gastrointestinal tract, especially the cecum and large intestine, is an important reservoir of fluids that are rich in nutrients and electrolytes from the horse’s feed. The blood will also draw a lot of fluid from the spaces between his cells. If the horse continues sweating to the point where these reserves are running low, his body will start to draw fluid from inside of his cells. When your horse gets to this point, he is becoming seriously dehydrated. 

Horses who sweat too long without replenishing their fluids can experience a number of health issues, ranging from impaction colic to tying up. Although most horses need nothing more than rest and access to fresh water to make a complete recovery from an intense workout, a significantly dehydrated horse may require several days of rest and drinking. A veterinarian may need to rehydrate a severely dehydrated horse intravenously or through nasogastric intubation.

Preventing Dehydration with Electrolytes

Since the dangers of dehydration range from performance-reducing to downright deadly, it’s important to have a plan in place to keep your horse hydrated all year long, regardless of the season or his workload.

The goal is to ensure your horse is ingesting more of the electrolytes he needs and subsequently increasing his water intake. Oftentimes, adding it to feed is the best plan. It’s important to choose a formula, like Apple Elite Electrolyte Pellets, Powder or Paste, that is highly palatable, contains a balanced electrolyte profile and is easy to feed.  You’ll want to make sure the electrolyte you choose has sodium chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium in the formula. Apple Elite Electrolyte Pellets are ideal for encouraging healthy water consumption to help maintain optimal hydration year-round in an easy to feed supplement. The paste option allows for an immediate serving of electrolytes—a great option for trail, performance, working or senior horses. Since electrolytes will stimulate drinking, be sure to always have plenty of fresh, clean water available to your horse.

Whether your horse is in heavy work or enjoys a slower pace, keep him healthy and hydrated year round with a quality electrolyte. 

Original article by Equus Magazine September 12, 2022

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