15 September 2014
‘TIS THE SEASON TO DRINK MERRILY BUT DOES YOUR HORSE?
A well-written and informative article from Lucinda Stapleton (Horse Quencher UK)
It’s a little known fact that horses can actually be thirstier in the winter than they are in the summer. A horse’s drive to drink is dictated by his thirst. This thirst mechanism doesn’t always function as efficiently in the winter as it does in the summer. In fact the colder it gets, the less your horse feels like drinking – even when his body really needs fluid.
Yet it is essential to keep your horse well hydrated during winter. Water is your horse’s most vital nutrient. Without it, horses die within a few days, whereas they may be able to go weeks without food. Proper hydration is the first line of defence against minor issues becoming major. In competing horses, dehydration can cause loss of performance, fatigue, colic, seizures, azoturia and kidney failure. Water is lost from a horse’s body every day through urine, faeces and moisture in breath exhaled from the lungs. If a horse is performing during cold weather, significant water can also be lost from sweating. Dehydration occurs if a horse loses too much water from its body and does not replenish it, or is just not drinking enough daily to meet its bodily needs. A 3 to 4% loss of body water will cause mild dehydration. An adult horse’s body is roughly three-quarters water. Horses need at least seven gallons a day to stay on form, and up to four times more in hot weather. In cold weather horses will occasionally eat snow and cut back on drinking water. A horse cannot get the water he needs simply from eating snow. What’s more, the forage beneath that snow is primarily dry matter. Without a readily available source of ice-free water, this is a recipe for colic.
A horse’s nutritional water requirements are influenced by body condition; the amount, type and quality of feed consumed; environmental conditions; and the level of activity or work the horse is doing. There are two common complications resulting from inadequate water consumption during cold weather. The first is decreased feed intake. Even if good-quality feed is offered, the horse will cut back on consumption if it is not drinking sufficient water. One reason for this is the lack of saliva to mix with the feed as it is being chewed. A normal adult horse in a state of good hydration will secrete up to 10 gallons of saliva per day to help soften its food as it is chewed and swallowed. If the appetite is affected and less feed is consumed, the horse might not consume enough energy to tolerate the cold weather. This may result in weight loss despite adequate nutrition.
The second, and potentially more harmful complication, is impaction colic or constipation. Both the feed material during digestion and the faecal contents after digestion must maintain adequate moisture levels. If they become drier, they are not moved along the intestinal tract in a timely manner and may cause an intestinal blockage (impaction). Impactions do not only occur in the winter, but any time a horse is drinking insufficient amounts of water to meet its requirements. A horse will not become impacted in one day from decreased water consumption. The process usually happens over several days to weeks. If the horse becomes chronically dehydrated over a period of time, the body reserves are lowered and an impaction can occur. By encouraging increased water consumption, you may be able to prevent this.
We’ve all heard the adage, "You can lead a horse to water…" But what can we really do to encourage our horses to drink?
One thing is to make sure the water is a comfortable temperature. Studies show that horses consume more water when it’s tepid – cool but not cold. Think temperatures in the mid-60 degree Fahrenheit range. It is probably not necessary to greatly increase the water temperature for every horse, but it would be worthwhile for older horses whose teeth can be more sensitive to cold water, for horses whose consumption is below normal,
or for horses that have a history of impaction.
We all know that salt consumption increases thirst. The idle, adult horse should be consuming about two ounces per day. Salt is added to commercial mixes but you should offer additional free choice salt in the form of a salt lick. As long as free-choice water is available, consumption of additional salt will not result in health concerns.
Dampened feeds can also be welcome in the winter when dry matter intakes are often high due to decreased turnout and increased forage intake. The feed will retain its appetizing smell and as long as you make the change to adding water gradually, there shouldn’t be any problems.
Whilst there are no guarantees in life, an exciting new product now available in Britain gets horses drinking immediately. Horse Quencher, an all-natural blend of ingredients, looks like muesli and causes most horses to dive right in when added to a bucket of warm or cold water and makes a great winter tipple, available online at www.horsequencher.co.uk.
Keeping his body fluids at optimum levels will be your horse’s best defence against the cold — and colic. It is essential to keep your horse drinking during winter. Water is one essential nutrient you never want to skimp on.