It’s extremely important to know when your horse may be dehydrated and how to prevent dehydration. In the summer heat, dehydration can become fatal if left untreated and cause your horse to feel very uncomfortable. If your horse competes or is a working horse, dehydration can also decrease your horse’s performance.
Heat waves are fairly uncommon in the UK, however when they do arise horse owners need to be very cautious and take extra care in making sure their horses stay cool and hydrated at all times.
Horses can get heat stroke just like humans. If you notice anything unusual in your horse like rapid breathing; restlessness; redness of the tongue; lethargy; muscle spasms; or tumbling you will need to call an equine vet immediately.
There a few easy ways that you can check for dehydration in your horse before seeking veterinary advice.
Check Your Horse’s Hydration
Slow Capillary Refill
A slow capillary refill means that your horse has dried out gums. Press your finger on your horse’s gum and check how long it takes for their gums to return to their normal pink colour. If this takes longer than 3 seconds this is called a slow capillary refill, which means your horse is dehydrated.
Check to see whether your horse is producing urine that is darker in colour than usual. If this is the case their urine will also have a more intense odor. The darker your horse’s urine the more dehydrated they are, similarly for humans.
Prolonged Skin Tent
Take a pinch of skin around the shoulder area and then release it. The time it takes to return to its natural form is usually a good indication as to whether your horse is dehydrated. A hydrated horse will have skin that will spring back into place when pinched, however, if your horse is dehydrated it may take several seconds or longer for your horse’s skin to return to its original shape.
When your horse is dehydrated it will take shallow breaths. It’s normal for a horse to take around 8 – 12 breaths per minute, if your horse is taking any more than that, it indicates that your horse is dehydrated.
Now that you can test your horse to see if they are dehydrated, it’s important that you know how to treat dehydration. There are plenty of simple ways to hydrate your horse:
- Always offer your horse clean and fresh water after any activity and make sure your horse has access to water and shade at all times. If the heat is too intense and your horse has limited amounts of shade, it’s often a good idea to bring your horse inside during the midday heat.
- Fresh foods are always a great way for your horse to gain fluids. Fresh foods contain water which will help hydrate your horse.
- You can cool your horse down by spraying them with a cool hose, this will lower their body temperature and stop them from overheating. Remember to start at the legs and chest before working your way up over the rest of the body.
Call for equine veterinary assistance if all of the above points don’t help rehydrate your horse or they show signs of worsening.
You can also take a look at Horsemart’s article titled ‘Horse Health Care (The Ultimate Guide)’ for any other helpful information on your horse.