When should your horse get electrolytes?
- When does your horse need electrolytes? Well…what starts out as a simple answer (when he sweats) actually turns into something more complicated. Can’t anything be simple with horses?
- To get this explanation off to a rolling start, your horse needs his salt daily. About a tablespoon of salt per 500 lbs. of horse. I much prefer to measure this for him, as only then you can guarantee he’s getting his daily need of salt.
When horses sweat, they sweat out other things besides sodium.
- Chloride, potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and a few other trace minerals all need to be replenished in addition to your horse’s daily salt intake.
- Horses have the amazing ability to sweat out loads of these electrolytes, leaving his body unbalanced. Compare that to humans, whose sweat is basically water with a teeny tiny bit of electrolytes.
When do you need to give electrolytes to your horse?
- As a rule of thumb, give electrolytes to your horse before he needs them, within a four-hour time window. On hot days, if he’s trailering in the summer when he will be sweaty from exercise or stress.
- Be mindful of giving your horse electrolytes all the dang time, even when he doesn’t need them, as the calcium can interfere with your horse’s own mechanism to use his calcium reserves.
- If your horse gets a dose of electrolytes in the morning, then he doesn’t sweat, the ingredients are quickly and easily excreted in the urine. If he does sweat, the electrolytes given will replace what he has lost.
The dehydration part of the electrolyte question.
- Many people give electrolytes to a dehydrated horse to stimulate him to drink. The electrolytes in his GI system cause water to move from his blood to his gut. When this happens, the salt concentrations in the blood rise and trigger the drinking desire.
- BUT – some horses don’t drink in response to electrolytes, so the water that moves to your horse’s gut will actually dehydrate him more. Call your vet if you suspect dehydration! This is not something to “wait and see”, dehydration can be quite dangerous.
It’s very likely that I read horse labels a LOT more than I read my own food labels.
The best ways to feed electrolytes
- A sprinkle of them onto his morning meal usually does the trick. Many horses won’t drink electrolytes in water, so adding them to feed is best.
- Blocks are rough on a horse’s tongue so most horses won’t ever get enough to make a difference, and even then, it might not be at a beneficial time. For more on why I think mineral blocks are just throwing money away, read this.
How do you pick the best type of electrolytes?
- It’s part smart shopping, part horse taste test. I look for ingredients that don’t have any words that end in -ose (like dextrose), as these are fancy names for “sugar”.
- Also, avoid bicarbonate as an ingredient unless your horse has diarrhea and your Vet suggests it.
- On a small tangent here, diarrhea can cause major issues beyond dehydration. Think colitis, organ failure, laminitis, and even causing other horses to be sick if a virus is a cause. For you tangent lovers out there, read this on manure!
- So – keep your eye on the weather, how much your horse sweats, and remember to give electrolytes first – before he sweats!
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