Dehydration in horses – what to look for and how to reduce the risks
What is dehydration?
A common misconception of dehydration is the association it holds with being thirsty – this is not necessarily the case. You can, in fact, be thirsty and not be dehydrated. The scientific definition states that dehydration is when the body loses more fluids than you take in - this puts the body out of equilibrium and may cause serious issues, such as kidney failure, if not addressed adequately. As well as being a common issue with humans, animals can also suffer from dehydration too. We have composed this blog post to help you spot the early signs of dehydration in your horse and how to prevent dehydration occurring – read on to find out more.
What does dehydration look like in horses?
Although NOT a 100% dependable test, pinching your horse’s skin along their neck can be a strong indicator of dehydration– if their skin stays raised for a period of time it could be a sign of dehydration. Ideally, your horse’s skin would flatten quickly after the pinch. Another indicator for dehydration is the succulence and colour of your horse’s gums – they should be moist and pink in colour.
Horses have subtle little ways of telling us they are not feeling quite right. If your horse is unusually lethargic or unwilling to work it could be a sign of mild dehydration. Excessive sweating, twitching and dull eyes are also signs of dehydration. Severe dehydration may be visible through your horse’s urine, just like human beings, dark coloured urine can indicate a low level of fluid in the body. Of course, it is important to recognise that some of these symptoms may overlap with other conditions and if they are persistent in occurrence, it may be worth getting a vet's opinion.
Methods of prevention
There are numerous methods that can be implemented to reduce the chances of dehydration, the obvious one being water. However, there are many other precautions that you can take to reduce the risks associated with dehydration.
Water is a horse's most essential intake, much like human beings. There should always be a fresh supply of water readily available. Make sure you have plenty of water buckets in the stable and field!
Feeding water soaked food is a great way to help your horse stay hydrated. Speedi-Beet is a great product for this purpose.
Just like us, horses also require shade from the blazing summer rays. Horses should always have the option to seek shade if they desire, whether this is under trees or in a man-made shelter.
If you have to travel on hot days, try to time the journey first thing in a morning or last thing in the evening – generally, these times during the day are cooler and will provide a more pleasant journey for your horse.
Many horse owners will choose to exercise their horses at cooler points during the day. This will reduce the amount of fluid they lose. It is important to cool your horse down adequately after exercise. It is also advisable to keep your horse moving when he is washed down after exercise. You may have witnessed this cool down method on racehorses – the horse will be washed down but they will continue to be walked around to reduce the build-up of lactic acid.
Electrolytes are salts and minerals located in the bloodstreams. Horses also have electrolytes running through their bloodstream. When a horse sweats, they are losing essential electrolytes and putting the body in disequilibrium. Under normal circumstances, a balanced diet will be efficient in maintaining a balanced level of electrolytes in the horse’s body.
Electrolytes supplements, such as Equine America Apple Lytes or Animalife Vetrolytes Plus Sachets, are a great invention if used efficiently. For horses in light work, these supplements are not useful and can actually be a waste of your hard earned cash. A horse that does not require replacement salts and minerals will simply filter the excess through their kidneys. However, a horse that is in hard work, or in a stressful/new situation (new home or travelling) may benefit from electrolyte supplements.
It is essential that when feeding additional supplements that affect the body’s equilibrium, you always have fresh water readily available. Failure to provide water when feeding these supplements could lead to further issues such as salt toxicity and further dehydration!
We hope you found this blog beneficial in understanding the causes and risks of dehydration in horses. Keep a close eye on your horse’s behaviours to minimise the risks of dehydration!
04 July 2019