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Hydration basics for horses

Keep your horse properly hydrated as the temperature starts rising.

Keep your horse properly hydrated as the temperature starts rising.

 

The weather is warming up, and with heat comes sweat and the risk of dehydration. Even mild dehydration compromises your animal’s performance, and severe cases can result in heat exhaustion and death. Here are the basics for keeping your horse hydrated and healthy:

How horses keep cool

Like all animals, a horse’s muscles generate heat as they metabolize energy. This heat travels via the circulatory system from the muscles to the skin and lungs, where it either radiates out into the air or escapes as the animal exhales. However, an exercising horse will quickly produce more body heat than it can release through heat and radiant cooling. As a result, the horse’s core temperature increases, triggering its sweat glands. The sweat, which contains a higher concentration of electrolytes than many other mammals, carries heat away from the skin as it evaporates, regulating the horse’s temperature.

“Active horses lose 10 to 15 liters of fluids per hour.”

If you’re not careful in replenishing these fluid and electrolytes, your equine can quickly become dehydrated. According to Practical Horseman Magazine, a horse competing in high-intensity activities like racing and polo loses 10 to 15 liters of fluids per hour. A mildly dehydrated horse is lethargic and depressed, while severe dehydration can result in death.

Testing your animal’s fluid levels

It can be hard to tell if your horse is dehydrated, especially if you’re in a hot, dry climate where sweat evaporates almost instantly. Instead of gauging your animal’s hydration by the amount of sweat it produces, use the following tests:

  • Observe the urine: A horse that has not passed urine for a while or has dark brown urine is dehydrated.
  • Look at the mucous membranes: Red, congested membranes indicate dehydration.
  • Use the skin pinch test: Grab a bit of skin on the neck and pinch it until it turns white. A hydrated horse’s skin will return to normal in about 2 seconds.
  • Check the capillary refill time: This method is similar to the skin pinch test. Press a finger on your horse’s gums for 1 to 2 seconds. Remove and observe how long it takes for the spot where your finger was to turn pink again. If the CRT is longer than 2 seconds, your horse may be dehydrated. A delay of four seconds or longer requires immediate attention, Horse Journals advised.
  • Listen to its stomach: A healthy, hydrated equine gut is full of liquid, and you should be able to hear its digestive process.
  • Take a blood sample: If you suspect serious dehydration, a blood test will reveal your equine’s red blood cell counts and plasma protein levels.

Avoiding dehydration

As with any ailment, prevention is the best form of treatment when it comes to dehydration. Before competitions, travel or other instances of high activity or stress, give your horse Finish Line’s Electrocharge. This oral solution combines electrolytes and trace mineral salts to support healthy hydration levels. Be sure to have fresh water available to your horse immediately afterwards.

In between competitions, use Finish Line’s Apple-A-Day or Orange-A-Day. These daily horse healthcare products support your horse’s appetite and water consumption, helping it get the fluids and nutrients it needs even when exercise makes it reluctant to eat or drink. Both products also contain a blend of minerals and electrolytes to replace those lost from sweat. Have fresh water available afterwards.