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AskHQ: Dehydration

Q: What are the signs of dehydration?

A: Dehydration is a serious threat to your horse’s well-being, as this loss of water also means the loss essential minerals such as sodium and potassium. In serious cases, if the horse is not quickly rehydrated, it could lead to colic, kidney failure, cardiac problems and even death.

A horse’s skin loses its elasticity when body fluid or electrolyte levels are depleted. The easiest way to assess dehydration is to pinch the skin along the horse’s back or on the neck in front of the shoulder. If the skin stays up and only slowly returns into place, then the horse is dehydrated. If the horse is well hydrated the skin will spring back quickly to its original position as soon as it is released. Other signs of dehydration include lethargy, dull eyes, dry skin and mouth, pale gums, thick saliva and an increased pulse rate.

Always call your vet if you suspect dehydration, as at the point where signs and symptoms of dehydration are noted, oral rehydration is unlikely to be sufficient and intravenous (IV) fluid therapy may be required. However, your vet will be best placed to determine the rate of rehydration required.

NOTE: If you can keep an eye on how much water your horse is drinking, especially during this cold period when many horses drink less than usual, this can help to alert you to potential problems early. If you notice a low intake, try warming the water slightly as this can really help some horses to maintain their fluid intake in these chilly conditions. However, if you make a change to your horse’s water – for example by warming it – you must always make sure that they have a bucket of plain, normal temperature water available as well, in case your horse doesn’t like the warmed water.