Nov 30 2020
Now that the weather is warming up it is essential to ensure horses are rehydrated as quickly and efficiently as possible after a long journey. For horses on short journeys in cool weather, free access to fresh water and a salt lick should suffice. Horses on longer journeys, who don’t eat and drink well during transit or horses who are inclined to sweat, may require some supplementation.
While long distance travel is considered routine for many horses, researchers at the University of California found that even horses who were considered “experienced travelers” lost an average of six percent of their body weight during transport, mostly due to sweat loss, as well as decreased gut fill. On top of this, hematocrit and total protein (used as indicators of dehydration) increased during travel. Most horses regained 50 percent of the weight lost within 24 hours of arrival at their destination, but dehydration and electrolyte imbalances often take longer to recover.
When horses sweat, they lose not only fluid but also electrolytes. Electrolyte losses through sweat can be substantial as horses can lose up to 10-15 litres of sweat per hour. Furthermore, horses have 10x more concentrated sweat than humans, this means they can lose a large volume of fluid rich in electrolytes, which needs to be replaced in feed as horses do not store sodium, potassium or chloride in their bodies.
Sweat is comprised of a variety of essential electrolytes; Chloride, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, Calcium and Phosphorus, so when a horse drinks water after sweating, they are replacing the fluid loss but not the electrolyte loss.
For this reason, when horses arrive at their destination after a long journey it is advisable to administer electrolytes. Electrolytes come in a variety of forms: Pastes, feed additives and water additives. Although feeding electrolytes in water as an isotonic solution is the best way of regaining full hydration, if the horse has lost a vast amount of sweat it can require at least 20L of this solution. A better solution would be to feed an appropriate volume of electrolyte paste and make sure fresh water is provided. Electrolytes should then continue to be provided for 2-3 days after travel to fully replenish losses. After giving electrolytes, clean fresh water MUST be available at all times as the electrolytes will stimulate the horses thirst.
On top of supplementing with electrolytes there are a few other tips to ensure your horse is rehydrated quickly and safely:
- Feeding soaked hay
- Adding water to hard feed to make a “soup”
- Feeding a soaked feed such as sugar beet
- Flavour strange water with apple juice/handful of grain if horses are hesitant to drink
As always, if you have any concerns about your horse, please seek professional advice from your veterinarian.