Electrolytes can be a powerful way for horse owners to support their horses during hard work or hot temperatures. Horses lose electrolytes through sweat, and most horses will sweat more frequently during summer. Electrolytes are necessary for almost every function, including nerve, digestion, and muscle contraction. Certain electrolytes, such as sodium, are routinely low in horses.
Before purchasing a pile of electrolyte supplements, here are a few things to know.
Why Do Horses Need Electrolytes
Electrolytes consist of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. These minerals are lost daily through normal urine and manure production. They are also lost during sweat at roughly 9 grams in each liter of sweat. Most normal diets will adequately replenish the daily loss, but not during sweat or after excessive sweating.
When do Horses Need Electrolytes
Horses need electrolyte supplementation when under stress, after a hard workout, during extreme hot or humid water, and when they sweat excessively. You can provide electrolyte supplementation in conjunction with any of these events to help replenish any loss your horse experiences. If you are unsure if your horse will need supplementation before one of these activities, you can still give it to them. They will eliminate any excess from the single dose.
It is not recommended to provide electrolyte supplementation daily (outside the circumstances listed above). Providing excessive electrolytes to your horse can cause secondary issues such as impairing calcium mobility.
The one exception to the daily electrolyte supplement rule is free-choice salt, which your horse should always be able to access.
When Should I Give My Horse Electrolytes
If you know your horse will be under stress (trailer ride, horse show, etc.), give them the electrolyte 1-2 hours before the start of the event. When your horse is experiencing prolonged stress, such as an extended trailer ride, provide electrolytes every 3-4 hours, along with fresh water. Give another dose of electrolytes at the end of the trip or event.
Always give electrolytes after a workout when your horse sweated excessively.
What Ingredients Are Important?
Not all supplements are created equal, and the same applies to electrolytes. Here are some ingredients you WANT in your electrolyte mixture because they are quickly and easily absorbed:
You’ll want to avoid products with di-calcium phosphate or any that list sugar or a variant as the first ingredient. Please note that some electrolyte formulations contain bicarbonate. These are specifically designed for horses with diarrhea and not meant for working/sweating/stressed horses.
What Forms Do Electrolytes Come In?
You can find supplements in paste or powder forms. The powder can be mixed with water or sprinkled on top of the grain. Make sure your horse finishes all of the supplements. Sometimes the powder will sink to the bottom of the grain bucket.
Paste formulations come in a disposable syringe similar to a dewormer and are convenient for on the go. These are often more expensive than powder options.
We hoped this gave you some background on electrolytes' benefits, when to use them, and what to look for when purchasing. If you have concerns or questions about electrolyte deficiency in your horse, please contact your veterinarian.