Equine Electrolytes

December 1, 2016 24 view(s)

Imagine this:

It's hot. You're sweating, your mouth is as dry as the Sahara desert. You just whizzed around a course in the heat of the day. You reach over, grab a Gatorade and slosh it down like you are barreling down a luge in the Olympics. So here's the thing. By taking that swig of Gatorade you replenished most of what you lost while cooking in the sun... But, what about your horse?

What is an electrolyte?

Electrolytes are positively and negatively charged ions that are formed when minerals and other salts dissolve in water. Similar to the ocean, the body’s fluids (blood, plasma, saliva, etc.) are full of salts and minerals. They are important because they are what the cells use to maintain voltage stability across cell membranes. Electrolytes carry electrical impulses such as muscle contractions & nerve impulses across themselves and to other cells. Without electrolytes, the cells in the body couldn’t properly communicate with each other and perform essential functions.

How do we lose electrolytes?

Electrolytes are typically lost through sweat. The three main salts that need to be replaced are sodium, chloride and potassium. Calcium and magnesium can also be lost through sweat but typically on a much smaller scale than the other three. Each salt plays an important role in the body. Sodium helps to maintain blood pressure and balance water levels in the body. Chloride balances the alkalinity (acids and bases) of the body fluids. Potassium helps balances the cellular fluid and is vital for optimal muscle, heart and kidney function.

When should I use electrolytes?

Electrolyte Supplementation is not necessary for every horse, every day. As long as the horse has access to fresh water and free choice minerals/salt, the horse’s electrolytes should be in balance. Conditions in which you would want to consider the use of electrolytes would be:

  • Heavy workload/training in which the horse sweats considerably
  • Long trailer hauls (especially in the heat)
  • Endurance events such as racing, cross-country/eventing, competitive trail or other long riding/driving events

Ideally, if you know you and your horse will be engaging in activities like those mentioned above electrolyte supplementation would occur before, during and after the event. However, there are times when those activities are not foreseen.

A few signs that your horse may be in need of electrolytes:

  • Excessive sweating
  • Lack of thirst
  • Increased capillary refill time
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Poor performance
  • Abnormal heart rhythm or rate
  • Lethargy
  • Diaphragm spasms/thumps

What types of electrolytes are out there?

There are typically 4 types of electrolytes on the market. The recommended time of administration on these electrolyte supplements can vary greatly, so it’s important to read the manufacturer’s instructions to find the one that is right for you.

  • Powder/Granules: Typically given as a top dressing to feed or put in the horse’s water. Often times these come in flavors appealing to the horse such as appleorange or cherry. This form of supplement would be ideal for those horses that are not particularly picky eaters.

  • Pellets: This option is great for horses who don't cooperate well with paste being administered or are experts at avoiding unusual powders in their grain. They are often alfalfa based, so they are palatable and can easily be mixed in your horse's daily grain ration.

  • Paste or Gel: This form of electrolytes are administered to the horse orally. By giving the paste, you know that the horse is getting most, if not all, of the electrolytes.

  • Liquid: Often put directly in the horse’s drinking water or as a drench. Drenches are ideal for those horse owners that are practiced in drenching. Otherwise, we recommend contacting your veterinarian regarding the correct procedure. The liquid that is given through the horse’s water is good for a horse that will still drink water, but needs an electrolyte boost.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

No matter what electrolyte supplement you choose, your horse should always have unlimited access to clean, plain drinking water IN ADDITION to any water with added electrolytes. This is absolutely essential, year-round, for the health of your horse.

 

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