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Why it’s important to provide electrolytes year-round (including in winter)

Giving horses electrolytes during the winter is very important in maintaining their overall health.

Giving horses electrolytes during the winter is very important in maintaining their overall health.

 

Electrolytes are the ions or salts found in the blood that transfer energy between cells. According to the Veterinary Centers of America, the most important electrolytes for animals are chloride, sodium, bicarbonate, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. These ions and minerals are required for vital bodily functions such as nerve conduction, maintaining blood pH, heart and muscle contractions and especially hydration.
Electrolytes are the ions or salts found in the blood that transfer energy between cells. According to the Veterinary Centers of America, the most important electrolytes for animals are chloride, sodium, bicarbonate, phosphorus, potassium and calcium. These ions and minerals are required for vital bodily functions such as nerve conduction, maintaining blood pH, heart and muscle contractions and especially hydration.
Dehydration is caused by the loss of water and electrolytes through sweat and natural waste processes. Kelsey A. Hart, clinical instructor in the large animal medicine department at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, told Barrel Horse News that when horses become active, their vital organs require more energy to function properly. A lack of electrolytes can damage organs or even cause them to fail if dehydration is not treated quickly.
The amount of electrolytes horses need correlate to the electrolytes they lose. During summer months, horses typically produce large amounts of sweat and need to be given electrolytes to offset their lost fluids. This becomes more important for horses worked or exercised in hot weather. But what about electrolyte delivery during winter months? Do they need to be given electrolytes? The answer is yes: horses need electrolytes year-round to stay hydrated.

Work or no work – horses need hydration

A horse’s need for cold weather electrolytes can come from more places than energy lost through work. The blame lies partially on the fact that horses dislike drinking cold water and prefer a milder temperature. Neglectful owners can contribute to the problem.

“We get lots of calls in the winter from people with horses that are colicing and it’s because they don’t have access to an adequate water supply,” said John Sylvester, director of research and quality for MARS Horsecare US, Inc., to Barrel Horse News. “People are breaking the ice [formations on top of water containers] once a day and thinking that’s enough. It isn’t.”

The Horse.com notes that winter feeds are many times drier than foliage eaten in pasture and that water consumption becomes much more vital because it aids digestion and prevents impaction colic. However, many horses still do not drink enough water on their own to compensate for this natural lack of moisture in their diet.

 

According to a report from Equi News, horses not working can get sufficient electrolytes from high quality hay and salt licks. Electrolytes can also be administered via feed supplements and oral pastes like Finish Line’s Apple-A-Day™ and Electrocharge™ Electrolyte products generally feature feeding instructions based on horses’ workloads and sweat output.

“Electrolytes should be given to horses year round. They lose electrolytes from urination, defecation, sweat and respiration,” said Steve Blanchard, President Finish Line Horse Products. “We recommend giving electrolytes in the feed, but if given in the water for any reason we recommend a second pail of fresh water so the horse has free choice.”

Provide care in administering electrolytes, but not too much

Giving horses electrolytes during the winter is very important in maintaining their overall health.

Typically owners mix electrolyte supplements into feeds. However, they should also ensure the horse eats the mixture; it may not because of the food’s salinity. Owners should stir the combination around or dilute the electrolytes with more feed so the horse will consume it.

Typically owners mix electrolyte supplements into feeds. However, they should also ensure the horse eats the mixture as some horses may refuse feed due to the salinity. Owners should make sure the feed is well blended or dilute the electrolytes with more feed so horses will consume it.

Signs of horse dehydration include dry skin and mouth, thick and sticky saliva, lethargy, dull eyes and depression. Giving a horse too many electrolytes is a rare occurrence, but it is possible.

A horse should not be given electrolytes if it is presently dehydrated. Electrolytes alone could dehydrate the horse even further and cause severe fluid-balance problems such as salt toxicity. Equines should only be administered electrolytes when the horse has access to water and in dosages recommended by the manufacturer. It is possible to oversupplement electrolytes, however this is very difficult to do when following product instructions and taking the necessary precautions.

Equine dehydration is not a problem unique to the summer but one that is persistent year-round. Providing electrolytes can help caregivers keep horses healthy through every season.

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