Encourage your horse to drink water this winter!
It’s *hopefully* common knowledge that electrolytes should be given to horses during times when they are sweating. But what about winter? Dehydration is a real problem, and can lead to colic and other health problems. Sometimes, electrolytes are in order.
- Well, some horses sweat in the winter. They could be clipped and in full training, or they could be unclipped. Unclipped horses in winter might sweat because they are exercising, or they live in a climate that’s warm-ish during the day.
- But what about the horse that doesn’t sweat in winter? For whatever reason? It’s not a bad idea to keep giving electrolytes.
- Electrolytes are basically a combination of minerals, like calcium, sodium, and potassium, that your horse’s body needs to function. As these minerals enter the bloodstream, they draw water from your horse’s intestinal system to balance things out. This triggers the thirst response.
- Your horse should already be getting some sodium with his daily meals, the electrolytes round out the minerals needed. When you are shopping for electrolytes, look out for sugar (anything ending in -ose) as an ingredient, and potassium if you have a horse with HYPP. There are loads of sugar-free and potassium-free electrolytes out there.
Read the labels!
Pro tip – put the electrolytes into your horse’s feed.
- If you put them in water, there’s a chance that the new water taste will discourage drinking. If you feel the need to make a horse cocktail to encourage drinking, try using some apple juice or another favorite flavor.
- You might also be interested in this hot and cold water study that was done. https://aaep.org/horsehealth/winter-water-consumption What was discovered is further proof that horses are weird. Researchers discovered that horses will drink MORE water in the winter if it’s warmed. BUT – they prefer to drink icy water and will skip the warm water for the cold. So, to maximize water intake, provide warm water and only warm water if you can.
- You can also add water to your horse’s life by souping up his meals with hot water. And insta hot kettle is safe and handy to use for this. Mine has an auto shut-off button so nothing burns down.
- Keep the electrolytes and warm water coming this winter! Check with your vet if you are uncertain about your horse’s electrolytes needs.
A handy little invention for your barn. Also super fantastic for grooming with a bit of warmth.
Other ways to keep your horse hydrated in the winter:
- Add water to your horse’s feeds. Some horses will even “drink” their soupy meals and then eat the wet stuff.
- Consider soaking your horse’s hay. You may need to figure a few things out in order to make this happen in super cold weather. It may be as easy as dropping your hay net into a muck tub of water to soak for a while.
- You may find that dropping some of your horse’s feed into his water tub flavors it just right, encouraging drinking. Apple juice may also work to encourage drinking in the winter. If you decide to play around with flavoring your horse’s water, make sure he has flavored water AND regular water to choose from. This trick also works when traveling and at horse shows.
Check your horse’s hydration levels this winter
- You may have heard of the skin-tent test, where you pull a bit of skin from the upper neck and see how long it takes to rebound. Longer rebound times mean that your horse is a bit dehydrated. BUT – as horses age, their skin loses elasticity and that rebound lengthens anyway.
- The easiest way to check your horse’s hydration level is to look at and feel his gums. Gums should be pink, and slippery. Dry or sticky gums are not as hydrated as they should be. You can also do the capillary refill test, when you squish you thumb into the gums. This turns the gums white under your thumb. Count the time it takes for the pink color to return – it should be about two seconds.
- Any time you suspect your horse is dehydrated is a time for action. Check with your vet for suggestions, and be sure to monitor his manure. Drier manure and smaller fecal balls suggest dehydration and are often the precursors to impactions.
Keep the water flowing and those gums happy and healthy!
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