If you are a horse owner you already know that providing ready access to water is an important component of maintaining a horse’s health all year round including during the cold and windy Philadelphia-area winter months. But did you know that even if you provide unlimited access to water your horse may not drink enough for optimal hydration?
According to the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, horses limit their intake of ice-cold water to only what is absolutely necessary to satisfy thirst. Even as little as a three to four per cent loss of body water can cause mild dehydration according the the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine.
Water: Your horse’s most important nutrient
Water is a vital requirement for most every bodily function of your equine. Insufficient water intake can impede your horse’s digestion, affect normal blood volume and moisture levels causing temporary and/or permanent damage. It also puts your horse at a greater risk of colic, as well. So what can you do to make sure your equine friend is completely hydrated? Following are some guidelines to keep in mind:
• Horses should be given access to free-choice water -- at least ten gallons or more every day. Eating snow is never a substitute for water.
• Water should be fresh and free of foreign material, excessive minerals, environmental pollutants and unusual flavors.
• Water should be free of ice. There is no hard rule for water temperature, but the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine recommends optimal water temperatures of 45 to 65 degrees.
• If your horse lives outdoors full time, make sure the pathway to your horse’s water source is free of ice and ice debris so the footing is safe.
• Provide access to a salt lick to help stimulate your horse to drink more.
• Watch your horse’s behavior. If your horse’s feed intake decreases, this may be a sign of inadequate hydration. Horses oftentimes cut back on consumption if they are not drinking enough water. This is a serious sign of severe dehydration and a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.
How to check your horse for dehydration
A skin pinch test is one way to find out if your horse is dehydrated. Take your thumb and forefinger and pinch a small amount of skin on your horse’s neck above or on the shoulder. Release the skin and observe. If the skin flattens out right away that is a good sign, if it takes a few seconds or more your horse may be on the road to dehydration. Contact your veterinarian if you believe your horse is dehydrated.
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