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Horse Articles :: Electrolytes in Horses


Electrolytes in Horses

This summer is gearing up to be a hot and humid one up here on the North Coast, and with that comes the potential for both horses and riders to become dehydrated.

During the summer, horses in training, competing at shows, or being in the trailer for long distances can be at risk prone to dehydration. Dehydration results from the excessive loss of fluids and can lead to problems including elevated body temperature, muscle problems, colic, and even death. Aside from the loss of body fluid or water in sweat, there are essential electrolytes that are lost. Electrolytes are important for normal body function.

Electrolytes are mineral salts that become ionized (charged) in solution, and include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. They are required for the proper functioning of the body, notably in muscle contraction, blood fluid balance, and nerve impulse transmission. Sweating causes a loss of these salts, as they are water-soluble, and are dissolved in the body's fluids. You can actually see these salts - after your horse sweats and dries, you'll see a whitish haze on their coat, and it may feel a little gritty. These areas indicate loss of electrolytes, and much of what you see is dried mineral salt (mainly sodium chloride).

Since your horse is sweating and losing mineral salts, you may want to increase his intake with an electrolyte supplement. Horses should always have salt available to them and will "self-supplement" to meet their requirements. A complete mineral salt block is recommended. If your horse is in training, competing or has other stressors, adding electrolytes into the drinking water or top-dressing feed is another method of supplementation. If mixing with drinking water, please be sure to provide a source of "regular" water. Even if they do drink, some will not consume enough of the water to get adequate amounts of electrolytes into the body in an acceptable time frame. If this is the case, an oral syringe of electrolyte paste can be administered.

Electrolytes can also be mixed into the grain ration. If the animal eats their entire meal, this works perfectly. But some picky eaters tend to notice any change in their grain and will refuse to eat any of the meal! To avoid some of these feeding problems, many electrolytes have added flavors, such as apple or orange, to increase palatability. The flavors can improve consumption rate for many horses. If time is of the essence, or if the previous feeding methods are not acceptable to your horse, giving your horse a paste electrolyte allows you to know exactly how much was given, and more

importantly, you know your horse ingested it (or it's all over your shirt....). Oral electrolyte paste is effective for horses that are severely stressed, and which need to more quickly re-establish electrolyte balance in the body.

How do you know if you should supplement electrolytes?

In situations where horses lose a lot of fluid, such as in severe diarrhea cases and during intense exercise for long durations, or intense heat and humidity, horses will likely need to be supplemented. Stressful situations, such as transporting in significant heat or over long distances may also indicate the need to supplement. Traveling to and from shows, and performing at shows may increase sweating and fluid loss in horses, and their need for electrolyte supplementation. Horses that are in consistent, intensive training during the hot summer months may need electrolytes, too. Keep an eye on the hydration level of your horse by taking the thumb and forefinger of one hand and carefully "pinching" a loose area of skin on the horse's neck. If the skin retracts instantly, the horse typically is properly hydrated. If the skin remains "tented," this is an indicator that the horse is becoming or is already dehydrated. Note, however, that some horses may develop gastric irritation or even ulcers from electrolyte supplementation for extended periods of time, so ultimately you and your vet must decide what is best for your horse.

The bottom line is to know your horse and carefully evaluate the situation. Like humans, individual horses respond differently to stress, exercise, and hot weather. There is no "one size fits all" solution to the question of whether to administer electrolytes.

A few electrolytes we recommend are: Finish Line Apple-A-Day (Sugar-Free) Stress-Dex Vita-Flex Acculytes

Tips for Riders: It's just as easy for you to become dehydrated!

Drink plenty of water daily and don't wait until you are thirsty. Thirst is not a sign that you are becoming dehydrated! Drinking water through out the day keeps your body hydrated. I've even added a bit of my horse's "Apple-A-Day" electrolyte to my water bottle on a hot day after a lesson! If water is not your favorite thing to drink, flavored waters or electrolyte sports drinks are other options.

Other ways to get more water into your body: Keep freshly cut cubes of watermelon or frozen grapes to snack on, and don't forget about popsicles!

And, avoid diuretics like caffeine and alcohol, which rob you of needed fluids!

Try contacting your local Extension Office for more information about equine health in your area!

About the Author

The Paddock Saddlery was established in 1986, to serve the needs of the English Equestrian in Northern Ohio's Chagrin Valley. Our customers tell us it is easy to shop in a store where they can depend on friendly, courteous service from a knowledgeable sales staff. We are dedicated to providing our customers with the finest selection of saddlery, apparel, and accessories available to fit their discipline, experience, and budget.











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