First, let us explore the causes of equine dehydration. If your horse is outside during the cold months, their water may be freezing and a horse will not drink extremely cold water, not even from a lake.
If you have a lake nearby that freezes over in the winter, even if you break the ice regularly, the horse may not drink it or go out onto the frozen part of the lake for fear of falling through.
Signs your horse may be dehydrated include, lack of appetite, dry or pebble-like stools, extended periods laying down or stretching while on the ground, dull and glazed eyes, wrinkled eyelids, mucous membrane inside the nose and mouth are dry and red, thick, lathered sweat, shallow breathing and an increased temperature that does not lower at rest.
If any of these symptoms arise and you can cool your horse by putting him in the shade and fanning him, do so right away.
There are other symptoms of dehydration you should look out for like tying up, when your horse’s muscles have been overworked. Horses get dehydrated. In the hot months especially, but they can get dehydrated in any weather. If your horse does not get enough water, at least 10 gallons a day at rest, or water he will not drink (frozen), or is under stress, (during transportation for over an hour at a time), or undergoing heavy training, you may need to supplement his diet with electrolytes.
Dehydrated horses need to have electrolyte supplementation. If it is an extreme case, a veterinarian can give electrolytes intravenously. You can control your horse’s diet so your horse does not get to the point of dehydration. Electrolytes added to your horse’s diet will maintain the balance and flow of their vital body fluids, their circulatory system, nerve impulses and the healthy function of their muscles.
Requirements in a horse’s diet are fat 8-12%, protein 8-14%, carbohydrate 30%, and fiber 50%. The horse’s stomach holds 2-4 gallons and does none of the digestion processes. Food passes from the stomach to the small intestine in approximately 30 minutes. The small intestine will hold 10-12 gallons. It is approximately 70 feet long. From there feed travels to a large, 7-9 gallon, the blind-ended compartment where fermentation begins. It then passes to the largest part of the digestive system, the large colon, holding about 20-25 gallons.
Horses normally forage for their food, in the form of grass and hay. This is not always enough, especially if you train your horse regularly. Your horse needs plenty of freshwater, fat, protein, energy (carbohydrates), vitamins and minerals, and fiber in its daily diet.
Horses need electrolytes, which are water-soluble and do not build up in their body for future use, during activities to remove toxins that build up during exercise. Remember they cannot store them in their bodies so do not overdo it before an event. Regular dietary supplements in their daily feed should meet their needs.