About Horse Dehydration
It is vital that your horse does not become dehydrated. If he does, then his performance will be seriously affected. Dehydration can also be life threatening. So, what are the warning signs that you should look out for and how do you avoid the problem occurring in the first place?
The definitive test for horse dehydration is a blood test. This will measure the level of proteins in the plasma and the proportion of red blood cells versus plasma in the blood. But it isn’t always practical to perform a blood test, so you need to be vigilante. Watch out for dark urine and monitor your horse to make sure that he is passing urine regularly. If you horse is stabled then you can monitor the water levels in his buckets to see how much he is drinking. You should also check the mucous membranes (gums, nostrils, eye lids etc) as if these are pale/red or congested then your horse could be dehydrated.
A skin pinch test used to be utilised to detect dehydration but this has now been shown to be unreliable.
Why Are Horses Prone to Dehydration
Like humans, horses lose heat through sweat and they do this very efficiently. They also control their body heat via increased respiration which results in the horse losing more water. The amount of water that they lose will depend on the ambient temperature, their fitness level and the intensity of their work. However, horses can lose up to 15 litres of water per hour. So, it isn’t difficult to see how they can quickly become dehydrated.
The trouble is that drinking alone will not re-hydrate a horse if it has become seriously dehydrated. This is because the water ingested first dilutes the body fluids rather than the tissues and then switches off the thirst signals. If your horse is seriously dehydrated, then he will require electrolyte therapy. Here electrolytes are given in feed or water to stimulate further drinking and to replace the salts lost through sweating.
How to Avoid Horse Dehydration
It is important to ensure that your horse always has access to fresh, clean water. Their access to water must not be restricted when they are competing. If your horse dislikes the water when you are on the road then add some flavour to make it more appealing. Mint and apple juice are both good choices. You could also invest in one of the proprietary products that are now available in order to tempt your horse to drink.
If you regularly have trouble in persuading your horse to drink enough water then switching their diet to haylage may help the situation. Haylage has a higher moisture content than hay. Soaked hay is a more cost-effective option if your budget is tight.
On hotter days it is essential to cool your horse down thoroughly and as soon as possible after any exercise. The quicker you stop him sweating the less water he will lose. This will help prevent horse dehydration.
When you are travelling to shows, keep your horse in the shade for as long as possible. You may not be able to see that he is getting hot and losing moisture. Remember to provide electrolytes to replace those vital salts after you have competed.