5 Ways to Tell if Your Horse  is Dehydrated

February 18, 2021

Did you know over 60% of your horse is water? That includes 85% of his brain, 75% of muscles, even 30% of bone. A horse's good health depends on his body’s ability to adapt to changes in environment and feed to keep fluid levels balanced. A hydrated horse is a healthy horse, while a dehydrated horse is in danger.

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Is Your Horse Dehydrated? Check For These 5  Signs of   Dehydration in Horses

Most horses won't drink enough water without some encouragement and salt supplementation, which means many are at least mildly dehydrated. If left unchecked, dehydration can lead to colic and serious health issues, even death. Become familiar with these symptoms of dehydration, and know how to check them in your horse.

1.  Is Your Horse's Heart Rate Normal?

Taking your horse's pulse can give you a good indication of how he's feeling. The easiest place to take a pulse is from the facial artery on the bottom side of the jaw, in the shallow groove beneath the last cheek tooth.1 The normal horse heart rate is 32-36 beats per minute, though some horses vary between 24 to 40 beats per minute. 

While your horse is resting, try to count his pulse for 60 seconds. If he’s restless, try 30 seconds and double the amount. (Avoid the common advice to check for 10 seconds and multiply by 6; the results will be less accurate.) A resting heart rate higher than 60 could be an indication of  dehydration.

2.  Count Your Horse's Respiratory Rate

Respiration can be taken by watching your horse’s chest move in and out or by feeling the air coming from his nostrils.1

A typical breathing rate is between 8 and 12 breaths per minute. A dehydrated horse takes more frequent, shallow breaths as his body tries to shuttle resources from one system to another. 

3.  Test Your Horse's Gums

Another sign of a dehydration in horses is a long capillary refill time. Check your horse's capillary refill by pressing gently on the gum near his upper teeth. The skin will turn white as you press, but the pink color should return quickly when you release.

Normal refill time is about 2 seconds.1 If it takes longer for the color to return, you’ve probably got a dehydrated horse.

4.  Check for Skin Elasticity

A horse's skin loses elasticity when fluids or electrolytes are depleted 2. An easy way to check for dehydration is to fold a section of skin along your horse's back or lower chest.

The skin of a hydrated horse springs back into place quickly. If the skin stays up like a ridge or returns slowly to its regular shape, you should take action to hydrate your horse.

5.  Look at Your Horse's Eyes and Gums

A hydrated horse’s eyes and gums should appear moist and shiny. If the gums are excessively dry or red, or if his eyes seem dry or dull,2 that's a good indication your horse is dehydrated and using up available fluids for core activities.

5 symptoms of dehydrated horse

How to Combat Horse Dehydration, by   Jessica Huntington, DVM

Proper hydration in horses is essential to optimum health and performance. Trailering, traveling, stress, and heat can all influence a horse’s need or desire to drink. That’s why every horse owner should be aware of how much and how often their horse is drinking.

The average horse needs at least eight gallons of water per day. You can help ensure your horse is staying hydrated by supplying access to fresh, clean water, and providing a salt source.

Salt plays a critical role in keeping horses hydrated. It triggers them to drink and is necessary for proper thirst response and water retention.

Providing a quality mineral salt like Redmond Rock or Crushed, and hydration supplements like Rein Water and Electrolyte, can encourage your horse to drink and ensure they receive necessary electrolytes and essential minerals. Redmond products are an excellent trigger to help your horse stay hydrated and healthy.

-Jessica Huntington, DVM

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Learn More

Want to learn more about keeping your horse hydrated? Read this post by Julie Goodnight with tips on how to get your horse to drink more

Looking for more information about salt licks and electrolytes? Read these 4 Common Myths Regarding Dehydration in Horses.

References: 

1.  https://horses.extension.org/temperature-pulse-and-respiration-in-a-horse/

2.  https://www.petmd.com/horse/emergency/common-emergencies/e_hr_dehydration

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