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Keeping Your Horse Properly Hydrated
By Curtis Gardner, CEO, Triton Barns
Water is the most essential nutrient for life. Just like humans, your horse needs a lot of water - a minimum of 5 to 10 gallons per day- to remain healthy and strong. The following paragraphs will tell you how to recognize dehydration in your horse and give tips on keeping your horse properly hydrated.
A horse can only live a few days without water. It’s crucial to nearly every bodily function, from regulating blood levels to carrying nutrients and facilitating digestion. Dehydration occurs when more water is lost than is replaced by drinking. Water is lost through things like the elimination of waste, sweating, or breathing. As dehydration worsens, your horse may experience digestive and kidney ailments, lack of energy, decreased performance, muscle weakness and even death. It’s vital that you work quickly to rehydrate your horse at the first sign of trouble.
In the beginning stages of dehydration, you may notice your horse is eating less dry matter and has reduced physical activity. As dehydration increases, your horse will start to lose more body (water) weight. At 3% body weight reduction, mild dehydration is in place, physical activity is diminished and the horse is at risk for impaction colic and other digestive problems. As the body becomes low on water it draws fluid out of the digestive tract, drying out the feces and causing blockages. At 6% weight reduction the horse will exhibit physical signs such as sunken eyes, dry gums and prolonged skin tenting. As dehydration progresses, urinary output is decreased and the urine turns dark and viscous.
As a horse owner, it’s essential you understand the importance of monitoring your horse’s eating and drinking habits. Ask yourself why your horse might be drinking less water. The best option for most any horse is to provide an unlimited supply of fresh, clean water at all times. Many horses take issue with water temperature extremes or different tastes in their water. Dehydration is often an issue in the winter, when the water is too cold and causes discomfort in their belly upon ingestion.
Warming your horse’s water might increase water consumption dramatically, but be wary of electronic heating implements that can shock your horse when it drinks. Eating snow will not provide your horse with adequate amounts of fluids. If you are concerned about how much your horse is drinking you might consider keeping them in their stall for a few days and giving them water out of a bucket. This allows you to see how much each horse is actually consuming. Be sure to check the bucket at least twice during the day- you don’t want your horse to run out.
Another thing to consider is that water quality and taste varies greatly as you travel. Some horses are very sensitive to even slight taste variations and may stop drinking water as a result. Salts, pesticides, fertilizers and minerals might be detected by your horse and cause them to reject water. Many people give their horse Kool-Aid or other strong drink mixes at home and on the road, so the water always tastes similar. Never allow your horse to drink from a stagnant water source. Water quality is about more than taste- your horse’s health depends on clean, pure water.
The amount of water that a horse needs depends on many internal and external factors. On a cool day, a rested horse will voluntarily consume around a half-gallon of water for every 100 pounds of body weight. Of course this amount will vary with age, breed and health status. Regardless of these factors, the most important thing you can do to prevent dehydration in your horse is to spend time with him and monitor his daily activities. The person who is familiar with his horse is much more likely to catch health problems in the beginning, when they are easier to correct.