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It’s extremely important to keep your horse cool and hydrated in the summer for multiple reasons. As well as many hazards to their health the sizzling summer heat can cause your horse to feel very uncomfortable.
Dehydration can cause your horse’s athletic ability to decrease in the short term and if left untreated dehydration can lead to health issues such as colic or tying up, also known as rhabdomyolysis. This is a severe muscle condition. If heat stress and dehydration continue to increase the kidneys can eventually become affected, which may be followed by multiple organ failure if no action is taken.
When the temperature starts to rise it’s best to keep a close eye on your horse. Young, old and ill horses are less tolerant to extreme heat.
Blue Cross states 'Horses drink approximately 25 to 55 liters of water per day depending on the weather, their diet and the level of work they are doing. Water is essential to maintain a horse’s health and it is vital that horses should have access to fresh clean water at all times, in the stable and the field.'
These are a few things to look out for that will indicate that your horse is dehydrated:
A Slow Capillary Refill - A dehydrated horse will have dried out gums and a slow capillary refill time of more than 3 seconds. The capillary refill time is the time it takes for the gums to regain their pinky color following finger pressure.
Shallow Respiration - When a horse is dehydrated it will take shallow breaths. A normal respiration rate is usually 8 to 12 breaths per minute. Any more than that is a good indication that your horse is dehydrated.
Darker Urine - Dehydrated horses will produce a more concentrated urine which is darker in color with a more intense odor, just like humans. The darker your horse’s urine is, the more dehydrated your horse is.
Prolonged Skin Tent - Hydrated horse’s skin will spring back into place when pinched on the neck area. Vice versa a dehydrated horse’s skin will return to its natural form but may take several seconds to do so, or even longer.
FACT: Darker colored horses will hold more heat and will generally sweat more than a lighter colored horse, similar to clothing.
Offer your horse clean and fresh water following any activity, make sure you are refreshing your horse’s water daily. They should have access to water at all times in a limitless supply.
If you’re away from home or your horse is refusing to drink, try adding a palatable flavor to your horse’s water. Alternatively, take water from home in a large container, as sometimes a horse will develop a taste for their own home water.
Some horses won’t drink enough even if water is provided. Giving your horse hay sprayed with salt water may help encourage them to drink, by making them feel thirsty.
You can also give your horse a salt block, this will have the same effect as spraying your horse’s feed with salt water, it will make your horse feel thirsty which will make them drink the water they need.
Soak your horse’s feed with water, this will help increase their water intake.
Offer your horse fresh foods. Horses get water from fresh foods, this will help keep them hydrated.
Make sure your horse has access to shade at all times and allow them to rest there in between any activity.
You can cool your horse down by spraying them with a cold hose as this will cause their body temperature to decrease. This can prevent life threatening conditions from developing. In extreme temperatures, you may way to consider moving your horse inside during the midday heat.
If you are traveling, make sure your trailer is well ventilated, this will cause your horse to sweat less, preventing dehydration. It’s also good to pull over every two to three hours and offer your horse water.
If all of the above points don’t help to improve your horse’s dehydration we recommend that you get in contact with your equine vet to seek further assistance and advice.
Horses can get heat stroke just like humans. Keep a medical number to hand in case you start to notice anything unusual or any of these symptoms:
Rapid pulse and breathing
Sweating more than usual
Redness of the tongue
Electrolytes are contained in sweat to help regulate the body’s temperature. Electrolytes are made up of sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. When your horse sweats they will lose electrolytes and it’s important that you replace them.
Electrolyte additives can be found in most equine or feed stores, these will help replenish your horse’s electrolytes. If your horse has a well balanced diet which is appropriate to their age and training level, usually additives aren't necessary. Having access to a salt or mineral block will take care of replenishing minor electrolyte depletion. Only give your horse electrolyte additives after they become depleted, otherwise, it will just be secreted in their urine.
For more information on horse health care, please visit Horseclicks’ ‘Horse Health Care (The Ultimate Guide)’