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How Much Salt to Feed Horses to Prevent Overconsumption and Deficiency

February 23, 2022

Occasionally you may come across a horse with a large appetite for salt, whether it’s salt blocks, salt licks, or loose salt. Salt is not produced by the body, and is necessary for life and health, so your horse should be getting a salt supplement every day. But can a horse have too much salt?

This is a question we've heard often from horse owners. We've been in the salt business for decades at Redmond, and have yet to see a case of a horse eating too much salt. In rare situations, however, it can occur. If it does, switching to a loose mineral salt like Redmond Rock Crushed can help control your horse's cravings. More on that in a minute, but first, let's talk about salt toxicosis, it's symptoms, and how much salt horses need daily.

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Salt Toxicosis: It Happens, but Rarely

Access to salt, specifically a quality mineral salt lick or loose salt, is absolutely essential for horses. Hay and pasture grasses contain little salt, so providing a free-choice salt lick or loose salt helps sodium levels stay balanced and stimulates a  horse to keep drinking. Without salt supplementation, some horses won’t consume enough water on their own, and risk becoming dehydratedwhich may lead to impaction or other life-threatening problems.

Salt is the most crucial mineral horses require—and most will self-regulate and consume enough to meet their needs without overindulgingSalt is also water-soluble, so a horse naturally balances salt intake by drinking water to flush out any excess. If salt toxicity—also known as salt poisoning or hypernatremia (excessive sodium in the blood)—does occur, it's generally because a horse stops drinking or is denied access to water.

The Merck Veterinary Manual notes this about the frequency and cause of equine salt toxicity: "Horses appear to be rarely affected with classic salt poisoning, but can develop it under conditions of increased salt intake and sudden water restriction."

Though situations are rare, salt poisoning can also occur if horses:

Symptoms of Salt Toxicity in Horses

As noted, salt poisoning is unlikely to occur if your horse's sodium-regulating mechanisms are intact and fresh drinking water is available. However, if you suspect your horse is getting too much salt, these are the symptoms to watch for :

  • Colic
  • Diarrhea or loose manure
  • Drinking too much water
  • Frequent urination
  • General weakness

A horse displaying these signs should be evaluated by a vet immediately to assess for salt poisoning or other diseases and recommend treatment.

Other Negative Side Effects of Too Much Salt

Besides salt toxicity, there are a few less serious downsides to letting your horse binge on salt. Here are the most common:

  1. Your horse’s stall will be messy. When a horse eats too much salt, it leads to increased water consumption, which results in an increase in urination. That means a messier stall.
  2. You'll spend more money than necessary. Just because your horse has an overactive appetite for salt doesn’t mean they need all of that savory goodness. Most of that over-consumed salt, along with your investment on mineral licks or blocks, will pass through the horse and end up in the bedding or on the ground.
  3. Your horse's mouth will become sore. A horse that spends too much of its day licking a salt block could end up with a sore mouth. That's not what you need when inserting a bridle bit or what you want for your horse's wellbeing. 

Treating & Preventing Salt  Poisoning

You should of course first seek your vet's advice on how to treat and manage salt poisoning if you suspect your horse has been affected. However, offering small amounts of fresh water frequently will flush out salt excesses and rehydrate most horses within two to three days.

Preventing overconsumption of salt in horses that seem to have excessive appetite for salt can also be easily done. Here are three simple methods to decrease your horse's intake.

Can a horse lick too much salt?

Combat Boredom

Eating too much salt can be a sign of boredom, so make sure your horse is getting enough exercise and time to roam. Turnout time entertains and help a horse find other ways to satisfy its impulse to chew. Adding a toy or other enrichment to your horse's stall may also help combat boredom and decrease overuse of salt licks.

Make Water Available

If you're feeding your horse salt (and you should be), make sure they have constant access to fresh water. This is critical. Salt triggers a horse's thirst response and encourages them to seek out and drink water. Sufficient water consumption also helps flush out any excess salt a horse consumes but doesn't need. The Merck Vet Manual notes this about providing horses access to water when supplementing salt:

"In general, animals can tolerate high concentrations of salt or sodium in the diet if they have continuous access to fresh water. Salt poisoning is often directly related to water consumption and can be reduced significantly or abolished completely by appropriate management of factors such as mechanical failure of waterers, overcrowding, unpalatable medicated water, new surroundings, or frozen water sources."

A horse that's not drinking is much more likely to experience salt toxicity. Learn here five ways to tell if your horse is dehydrated to help avoid sodium building up in the blood.

Switch to a Loose Salt

Consider taking away free-choice salt blocks or licks and adding loose salt to your horse's feed with Redmond Rock Crushed. Our loose mineral sea salt provides a complete balance of natural trace minerals and takes the guesswork out of how much salt to feed a horse. It can be measured in with feed or given free-choice in a pan. Either way, you get to choose how much salt your horse consumes each day.

Redmond Rock Crushed loose mineral salt is a great alternative to a salt lick for horses.What Happens if Horses Don't Get Salt?

We now know a little bit about what happens when horses eat too much salt, but what if they don't get enough? Salt (NaCl) is made up of two minerals: sodium and chloride. Equine nutritionist Dr. Juliet Getty notes sodium (Na) is necessary for proper muscle contraction, including the heart, as well as nerve impulses throughout the body and brain. Chloride (Cl) helps balance blood pH and assists potassium regulation, allowing for proper muscle contraction and  water balance. Another role of chloride is the production of stomach acid, which  starts protein digestion. 

Salt deficiency in horses is actually much more common than salt poisoning. The Merck Vet Manual notes horses who don't receive adequate salt (NaCl) rations may:

  • Tire easily
  • Stop sweating
  • Exhibit muscle spasms if exercised strenuously
  • Lose weight
  • Experience pica (learn why horses eat dirt and what to do about it)
  • Have decreased milk production (in lactating mares)
  • Exhibit polyuria and polydipsia (high urine production and water intake)

So how much salt do horses require daily to avoid both salt deficiencies and overconsumption?

Daily Salt Intake for Horses

In Nutrient Requirements of Horses, the National Research Council suggests an average 1,100-lb horse at rest needs at least 25 grams of salt (NaCl) per day as a maintenance dose. That's approximately 1.5 tablespoons or .75 ounces of loose salt. Heavy exercise in equine athletes increases the salt requirement substantially (up to 200 grams) compared to horses at rest.

At Redmond, we recommend feeding active horses 1 to 2 ounces  (2 to 4 tablespoons) of a Redmond Rock Crushed loose mineral sea salt daily, given free-choice or in feed. Serving size should be adjusted based on your horse's activity levels and sweat production. We also recommending providing horses a free-choice Redmond Rock salt lick to meet any additional energy demands. (Unless your horse is one that overindulges in salt; then hold the rock and feed only the daily requirement of loose salt.)

Learn more about Crushed from Bryan Rasmussen, professional horse trainer and rodeo athlete, in the video below! Also check out Redmond's Crushed with Garlic and fortified Daily Red loose salts for horses.

HubSpot Video

We hope we've answered your important questions about horse salt toxicity and daily salt intake requirements! If you'd like to learn more about other common horse health questions and myths regarding salt, check out the posts below. Or click the button to purchase natural Redmond salt licks or loose mineral salts to nourish and hydrate your horse.

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