💦You can lead a horse to water…

…but you can’t force it to drink!

With winter fast approaching many horse owners are unaware that their horse actually needs more water to drink in the colder months to avoid dehydration. Did you know that dry winter feeds can typically contain less than 15% percent moisture. We tend to feed more hay and hard feed as there is less grass available. Therefore, your horse will require more water in the winter.

Your horses body is mostly made up from water – around 65% in an adult horse. On average our horses will drink around 5 to 10 gallons of water per day. As horse owners we should be aware of dehydration. If your horse doesn’t drink enough water during cold weather they may eat less and be more prone to impaction colic.

What is dehydration?

“Dehydration means the excessive loss of water and electrolytes with an accompanying disruption of metabolic processes in the body”.

What causes dehydration in horses?

We know that lack of water in your horses diet, sweating through strenuous exercise, travelling, or stress are causes. But also, water and electrolytes can also be lost during diarrhoea, shock, fever or other illnesses. If your horses is a fussy drinkers and becomes dehydrated due to reduced water intake this will be a cause too. At a competition for example. Dehydration is a serious emergency that can lead to more serious problems if the horse is not quickly rehydrated. Quite frighteningly we have discovered that a loss of 12 – 15% of a horse’s body weight in water is potentially life-threatening!

What are the symptoms

We know that when a horse gets dehydrated it’s skin loses its elasticity. Other signs of dehydration that you can look out for include: depression, lethargy, dullness in eyes, dry skin and mouth. Also thick and sticky saliva, a high level of protein in the blood and a decreased appetite. Symptoms and their severity depend on level of dehydration.

Diagnosis

Have you tried the ‘pinch test’?
Pinch the skin on your horse’s neck or shoulder. What you are looking for is; The longer the skin takes to return to normal the more dehydrated the horse is. Another diagnosis method is examination of the gums – a healthy horse’s gums are pink and moist. A dehydrated horse has dark reddish coloured dry gums. A high temperature and elevated heart rate might also be an indication of the dehydration. Your vet can also perform various blood or urine tests to diagnose the problem.

Treatment

If your horse is dehydrated then they can simply be hydrated again by administering fluids and/or electrolyte solutions. Fresh water can be offered. Severe cases of dehydration require medical expertise as excess administration of fluids is also dangerous and can lead to water intoxication. Your vet might administer fluids and electrolytes by mouth or inject them intravenously (in severe cases). After the fluid level is back to the “safe zone”, any other issues caused by dehydration can be treated.

Prevention

We all know that living things need to have water. You can implement simple management practices can help to prevent dehydration in horses. Providing access to fresh, clean water is really important. Keeping water that is at room temperature is great. Around 10 deg celsius is ideal. “Fussy drinkers” should be encouraged to drink water; this can be done by adding flavour (e.g. apple juice). You can try feeding sloppy feed, warm mashes or added sugar beet (if suitable!) can help contribute to increased water intake. If you are able to put a salt lick in your horse’s stable, then they can access it ad lib. There are also electrolyte supplements available such as NAF Electro Salts to help replace any lost. Soaking hay can go towards helping.

We have seen some great products on the market such as Horse Quencher which could well be worth looking at if you have a really fussy drinker. Horse Quencher is “an all natural blend of barley, oats, beet pulp, corn, salts & molasses that when added to water will get your horse drinking immediately”. Horses that show signs of being fussy need just a little more time spent encouraging them to drink, in order to help combat dehydration.

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