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August 1, 2016

Treating dehydration in horses

by DePaolo Equine Concepts

The heat of summer is upon us and so is competition season.  Although this is a great time enjoy your horse, it is very important to monitor his hydration and water intake.  Once it has been determined that a horse is dehydrated, the severity of the dehydration dictates the kind of treatment necessary to get the horse back to a properly hydrated state.

There are three categories of dehydration:mild, moderate and severe.

Mild dehydration is about 5-7% fluid loss and usually is indicated by:

  • a slow skin pinch test
  • poor capillary refill
  • elevated heart rate

Offering water alone or with a dose of electrolytes (either as a paste or mixed into food) is usually enough to treat horses with mild dehydration.  Make sure there is no bicarbonate in your electrolytes as this will only worsen the imbalance in the blood levels.

Moderate dehydration is about 8-10 % fluid loss. Horses in this stage of dehydration often appear:

  • depressed
  • have a sunken look over their eyes
  • show a tucked-up appearance in their abdomen
  • display all the other signs of dehydration when a skin pinch test, capillary refill test and heart rate are taken.

Horses that are severely dehydrated have greater than 10% fluid loss and may be recumbent and show symptoms of:

  • Legs and ears are being cold to the touch.
  • Have elevated heart rates
  • High temperature.
  • Develop “thumps”

The condition known as “thumps” occurs when the horse has calcium and magnesium imbalances associated with fluid loss which cause the phrenic nerves of the heart to become irritated. This irritation causes the diaphragm to contract with the rate of the heart.   Horses with thumps will often stand with splayed front legs and their head down and appear to be panting or hiccupping.

Electrolyte and fluid replacement are necessary for horses at any stage of dehydration beyond 5-7% fluid loss and are sometimes recommended even in cases that are minimally dehydrated.

Horses with moderate to serious dehydration will often be given intravenous fluids to help their body rehydrate and to encourage normal thirst to return. Horses have a slower thirst response than humans and sometimes are not receiving proper signals that their body is dehydrated because the sweat glands in their bodies are conserving sodium poorly.  Thirst is a reaction to an alteration in sodium levels, so this lack of sodium in the sweat glands causes the thirst reaction to transfer slower. When sodium and potassium levels are not correct, this inclination to refuse water becomes worse.

Horses that are nervous or sick are likely to have depressed thirst response as well and sweating can worsen the electrolyte imbalance further by depriving the body of necessary electrolytes.  A horse with 5% dehydration would require about 5.5 gallons of water to correct the imbalance. A horse that is severely dehydrated might need as much as 23 gallons of fluids to correct its dehydration.

If you feel your horse may have vitamin or mineral imbalances in the long term, we suggest you try Horse Hair Analysis®, a cutting edge lab test and customized analysis report allows for deeper understanding of what may be causing unsolved health problems.

The Personal Supplement that DePaolo Equine Concepts will make for your horse from the Horse Hair Analysis® results will help to bring the deficient levels of vitamins and minerals into the normal range.

The majority of HHA reports have shown horses to be deficient in the four critical electrolyte minerals. The lack of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium will affect performance, recovery time, sensitivity to touch, anxiety and attitude.


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