How to determine your horse is dehydrated
This is a great question, and just in time for summer when it’s hot! Or winter, when horses don’t like to drink as much. As with all things horses and grooming, knowing how your horse is normally will alert you when your horse is dehydrated. This definitely applies to his state of hydration. #KNOWNORMALS
Check your horse’s hydration
- Just as we can gauge a horse’s normal TPR (temp, pulse, and respiration), there are a few ways in which we can gauge his hydration. Here we go:
Water should be clean and not frozen!
- The skin tent test. For this, you simply pinch a bit of his skin on his neck or shoulder area and see how long it takes for his skin to snap back to normal. A dehydrated horse will typically take longer to snap back, and his skin will look like a tent in the meantime. This test is somewhat unreliable, as skin loses elasticity over time, but it’s still a way that you can measure how hydrated your horse is. Pair this test with a gum inspection for best results.
- Gums. They should feel slimy. Sticky or dry gums are dangerous, as are gums that are red or blue. This is a great reason to be able to inspect your horse’s mouth and gums. Practice every day and it gets easy. It takes a millisecond!
- Capillary refill time. Now that you can feel gums and check gum color, put your thumb on the gum and press. When you release your thumb, the gum will be white. Note the time it takes for the gums to return to their normal color. It should be about 2 seconds!
- Dull eyes. No sparkle and no shine in the eyes might indicate dehydration. You guessed it, this is not super-objective in terms of measuring dehydration. Put this with any other observations about your horse.
- Overall demeanor. Is your guy lethargic or depressed? Not feeling himself?
- Increased heart rate. This can sometimes happen with dehydration. An increase in heart rate can also indicate pain, somewhere in your horse.
- Is your horse drinking normally? This is the number one reason to hang buckets and fill them throughout the day. Most horses have a drinking pattern, and you should know it. Any deviation can indicate a problem.
- You can get measuring devices for automatic waterers as well. Some are included in the waterer, some are added pieces that easily work with many styles of water systems for horses.
When your horse is dehydrated, look for these causes:
- Excessive sweating. This might be over-blanketing, over-heating, an excessive hair coat due to PPID or other metabolic disorder, or sweating during exercise or turnout with a thick winter coat.
- Lack of sweat despite normal sweat-producing conditions. This lack of sweating or partial sweating is anhidrosis, and can sometimes be managed well. Anhidrosis is a strange occurrence, and in some horses can appear and disappear out of the blue.
- Gastrointestinal distress, constipation, or diarrhea. No one feels good when colic is on the horizon.
- Thumps – which is the irregular spasm of your horse’s diaphragm and sounds a bit like burping.
- Tying up – where your horse’s muscles literally tie-up. Movement is painful and your horse will look and feel tense across his body.
- Kidney dysfunction. The horse’s urinary system is complex, and the kidneys sometimes fail. You may see excessive urination, sometimes paired with excessive drinking, but not always.
Call your vet if you suspect dehydration.
- Your veterinarian can give you a plan for rehydration that may include IV fluids or introducing water to him slowly at first, and then being allowed to drink freely. Different causes of dehydration call for different protocols.
- Pay special attention to the horse with digestive troubles or colic signs. Hydration is a large portion of gut health and needs to be addressed as part of the larger treatment plan.
- How often are you checking your horse’s gums?
If you need to pick up a heated muck style tub for your horse this winter or hydration tools, you can find them here. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support!
ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking
3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds