The technical summer season may be dwindling down, but the heat is definitely not. In many parts of the country, cities and states are still seeing temperatures in the upper 90s and even 100s. With the heat and humidity, horses being transported for long distances, especially in climates they are not used to are prone to dehydration.
Dehydration results from the excessive loss of fluids and cause horses to have an elevated body temperature, develop colic, have muscle malfunction and even die. With the fluid loss is also a loss of the essential electrolytes that the body needs, which are very important components in normal body function.
The electrolytes include sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium and magnesium. They are vital to muscle contraction, nerve transmission and blood fluid balance. These substances are soluble in water and sweating causes them to be lost. When a horse sweats and then dries, the white residue that is seen is salt and indicates a loss of electrolytes.
Horses that are transporting through consistently hot weather will need to be watched for sweating and electrolyte loss. You can test whether or not a horse has become dehydrated by taking your thumb and forefinger of one hand and pinching the loose skin on a horse’s neck. If the horse is hydrated, the skin snaps back quickly. If the horse is dehydrated, the skin will stay in the pinch that you made with your fingers or “tented.” This is an indicator of dehydration and a sign that the horse needs fluids as well as electrolyte supplementation. However, horses are different and some may develop gastric irritation and ulcers from electrolyte supplementation, so it is important to discuss this with the horse’s owner prior to supplementing it.
There are several ways you can supplement a horse with electrolytes. Typically we do so without realizing it when we feed a salt or mineral mix to our horses. Horses will self-supplement if they have a salt or mineral block available to them. You can make these available to horses in your trailer by installing small salt block holders or placing them in buckets. If you place them in buckets, be careful not to pour liquid or mashes onto the blocks, as it will cause them to melt. You can also put electrolytes into a horse’s drinking water. The drawback to this method is that not all horses will drink the water and those who do drink it may not consume enough of the water to get adequate amounts of electrolytes. Powdered electrolytes can be placed on the horse’s feed. Most horses will consume them readily in this manner, but others may refuse to eat. Finally, there are oral pastes available and are ideal for those horses who have become stressed or you can’t seem to get electrolytes down them any other way.