How to Recognize and Treat Dehydration in a Horse

Written by marie sberna
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How to Recognize and Treat Dehydration in a Horse
Horses need fresh, clean water at all times. (paint drinking water image by Photoeyes from

Dehydration is a loss of body fluids amounting to more than 5 per cent of body weight. A loss of 12 to 15 per cent of a horse's body weight in water is life-threatening. Horses lose fluids continuously through sweat, urination and defecation. Normally, the horse will replace these fluids by drinking water. However, at times the amount of fluid loss is excessive and quick, making it difficult for the horse to regain enough fluids to prevent dehydration.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Stethoscope
  • Water
  • Electrolyte supplement
  • Mineral blocks
  • Heated water bucket or tank heater

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    Detecting Dehydration

  1. 1

    Evaluate the mucous membranes of your horse's mouth and tongue. If they are excessively dry and red, the horse is showing signs of dehydration. Check the horse for excessive sweating, dull or sunken eyes and depression.

  2. 2

    Push on the horse's gums above the teeth to check for prolonged capillary refill time. The skin will change from pink to white as you push. Count how many seconds it takes for the colour to return. Anything longer than three seconds indicates dehydration.

  3. 3

    Check your horse's heart rate. Normal heart rate is between 36 and 42 beats per minute, according to Equine Veterinary Services. Anything higher than 60 beats per minute indicates dehydration.

  4. 4

    Perform the "skin-tent test," as the horse's degree of dehydration can be estimated by testing skin elasticity. Fold a section of skin of the horse's lower chest. Normally, it should spring back into place as soon as you let it go. In horses with moderate to severe dehydration, the skin stays up in a ridge or returns very slowly.

  5. 5

    Record your horse's respiration rate. Normal respiration rate in a healthy horse is eight to 12 breaths per minute. The respiration rate of a dehydrated horse will be higher than the normal rate, and the breaths will be shallow.

    Treating Dehydration

  1. 1

    Give your horse small amounts of clean, fresh water at frequent intervals if he is mildly dehydrated.

  2. 2

    Give your horse electrolyte supplements in her feed if she is deficient in electrolytes, minerals that are vital to nerve and muscle function. A horse with low electrolyte levels is fatigued and nervous; the animal's muscles will be stiff and may develop tremors. Your veterinarian should evaluate your horse and determine the proper supplement dosage.

  3. 3

    Call the veterinarian if your horse is moderately to severely dehydrated. The vet may administer corrective replacement solutions via a nasogastric tube or intravenous solutions through the jugular vein.

  4. 4

    Provide clean, fresh water and mineral blocks to the horse at all times to prevent dehydration. Monitor the amount of water the horse consumes every day.

  5. 5

    Deworm your horse on a regular schedule. Worms can block a horse's intestines and make healthy hydration impossible.

  6. 6

    Place a tank heater in your horse's water bucket or use a heated water bucket to keep the water supply from freezing in cold weather.

Tips and warnings

  • Check your horse frequently for skin elasticity, mucous membrane consistency, heart rate and respiration rate to establish a baseline of health for your horse.
  • Do not wait to consult your vet if your horse is severely dehydrated. Circulatory collapse and shock may result in death if not promptly treated. Excessive amounts of electrolytes can be toxic, so always consult your veterinarian before giving electrolyte supplements.

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