Electrolytes for Horses
In Phoenix, AZ (where some of my family lives), it recently reached 120 degrees Farenheit. And I know in California and other parts of the western U.S., it’s been pretty miserable as well. So far, we’ve had a fairly mild summer here in Oklahoma–though I’m sure the heat and humidity will make an appearance very soon!
But during hot weather, one thing you might be wondering about is whether or not to supplement your horse with electrolytes. I’d like to shed a little light in that department.
First of all, let’s talk about what electrolytes are exactly. . .
Electrolytes are specific minerals which help to regulate many bodily processes. In solid form, these minerals easily bond into salts (such as sodium chloride), but when dissolved in water, they break down into individual ions which carry either a positive or negative charge.
The main electrolytes include:
- Sodium (Na)
- Chloride (Cl)
- Potassium (K)
- Magnesium (Mg)
- Calcium (Ca)
The charges carried by electrolytes allow them to conduct electricity–therefore, they assist in electrochemical processes within the body such as regulating the heart beat and muscle contraction.
Electrolytes also aid in moving fluids in and out of cells as well as helping the body to absorb nutrients. Without electrolytes, the water a horse drinks cannot be properly retained and utilized by the body.
So you can probably see now why they’re so important!
Horses lose electrolytes through sweating, urine, and feces, but the good news is that most of these minerals are replaced when they consume grass, hay, and/or feed. The exceptions are sodium and chloride which are easily supplemented with salt.
So for most horses, supplemental electrolytes (other than salt) are not needed. However, if your horse sweats for a prolonged period of time (either because of high temps, intense exercise, or both), electrolyte losses can be high. This is when they need to be supplemented.
For horses competing in endurance racing, three-day eventing, or even who participate in long-distance trail riding, electrolyte supplementation is usually going to be necessary. But it may also be needed for horses being shipped long distances or even for a Cushing’s horse who tends to sweat more in the pasture.
Electrolyte supplements can generally be given three ways: with feed, added to water, or in a paste or gel form. After a period of prolonged sweating, it’s recommended to provide electrolytes for several days to make up for losses. And if you’re planning on going on a weekend trail ride or a big horse show during hot weather, it’s good to even start supplementing electrolytes several days in advance and then continue giving them throughout your event.
When looking for a good electrolyte supplement, sodium chloride should be first on the list of ingredients, followed by potassium chloride. (Like this one, for example.) Many electrolytes are sugar-based and though horses tend to like them better, I would try to steer clear of them, if possible.
By the same token, it’s important not to over-supplement electrolytes or provide them unnecessarily because this can irritate the digestive tract. Over-supplementation also might throw mineral balance out of whack, which can create additional problem for your horse.
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