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 sloshes 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 much
- 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
- Diaphragm spasms/thumps
What types of electrolytes are out there?
There are typically 3 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: Electrolytes that come in the form of powder or granules are typically given as a top dressing to feed or put in the horse’s water. Oftentimes these come in flavors appealing to the horse such as apple, orange or cherry. This form of supplement would be ideal for those horses that are less picky of eaters.
- Liquid: This form of electrolyte is 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.
- Paste: Paste 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.