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First Posted Sept 2, 2008
Jul 22, 2010

Electrolytes/Dehydration and Horses

by Debora Johnson

Dehydration and Electrolyte Losses in the Sport Horse

What Are Electrolytes?

We all know that human athletes often use ®Gatorade. That is because ®Gatorade replenishes the depleted electrolytes lost through sweat. But, What are electrolytes? Electrolytes are mineral substances that become ionized when put into a solution. The body needs these minerals to function properly. These minerals: sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium, to name a few, are necessary for proper muscle function, nerve transmission, and blood fluid balance. It is often difficult to answer the question as to when to give a horse electrolytes. The following list are some circumstances that might merit giving electrolytes. Of course, always check with your vet first.

  • Stress

  • Intense exercising
  • Intense training
  • Hot summer days
  • Competitions
  • Trailering
  • Long transports
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Any situation that may cause dehydration
Why and When to Give Electrolytes?

Electrolytes are mineral substances that become ionized (charged) in solution, and include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. They are required for the proper functioning of the body, notably in muscle contraction, blood fluid balance, and nerve transmission. Since these substances are soluble in water, sweating causes a loss of these valuable players in various body functions. When a horse sweats excessively and then begins cooling down, a whitish haze on their coat may be apparent before they are rinsed off. The haze may feel a little gritty to the touch. These areas indicate loss of electrolytes, and much of what you see is salt (sodium chloride). You may also notice that your horse works up a foam. This is also an indicator of loss of necessary minerals.

Supplementing Electrolytes

Your horse will not always cooperate when you want to supplement with electrolytes. They often do not like the taste of it. It is really salty! I tried it to see. Some people put it in the drinking water but there is no way to know how much of the supplement the horse will drink. I do not really like this method because there are too many variables. Another way to supplement with electrolytes is to put it in your horse's feed (grain). If this works it is a good way to supplement, however, we all know that many horses are really picky about any change in their diet. If it smells or tastes strange they refuse to eat it! It is the same with meds added to the grain. There are ways to mask the smell and taste such as adding apple sauce or molasses, but even then, some horses will not eat it. There are pastes that can be given just like wormer paste, however, there is no assurance that you horse won't spit some out! I do not know of any sure proof method. It depends on your horse.

How to Test for Dehydration in Your Horse

On your horse's neck pinch the skin gently until it is raised in an inverted "V" between your thumb and forefinger. Your horse is dehydrated if the pinched skin stands up and does not spring back to normal. The slower the pinched skin is to retract back to normal the more dehydrated your horse. Also, you can check your horse's gums. The gums should be a nice pink color. If there is a blue tint or other color this is usually an indictor of trouble.

Can Electrolyte Use Hurt My Horse?

Overuse of electrolytes can cause some horses to develop ulcers or gastric problems. It is always best to consult your vet before using electrolytes, especially for an extended period of time. It is also extremely important to use a vet recommended electrolyte. There are many preparations on the market and many contain too much sugar.

For More Information:

Book Excerpt: Severe Dehydration
Fluids and Electrolytes: Life's Curious Brew-theHorse

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