Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Appears Dehydrated

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp>101F/38.3C), or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
  • If the foal is not nursing or seems depressed.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Water intake for a normal horse ranges based on body weight, but usually falls within the range of 5-10 gallons of water per day (approximately 1 gallon per every 100 lbs).

Dehydration results from an imbalance of water and electrolyte loss versus intake. It can result from insufficient drinking, excessive loss of body water to the outside (through sweating, excessive urination, or diarrhea), loss of fluid into an internal space such as the gut (due to an impaction or obstruction), or loss directly into the abdomen or chest.

Experienced horsemen may recognize dehydration as a general observation. Signs of dehydration generally include a drawn up appearance, delayed capillary refill time, dark mucous membranes, prolonged skin pinch at the shoulder, and an elevated heart rate.

Your role is to provide rest, shade, shelter, feed and water.

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to gum color and moistness, capillary refill time, skin pinch for hydration, heart rate and pulse strength. Avoid using drugs without your vet’s knowledge, because dehydrated horses are more susceptible to side effects such as kidney damage. Provide free choice clean water, and stimulate thirst if your vet advises.

Thirst is stimulated by higher sodium content in the horse’s blood. When horses lose sodium and other electrolytes in sweat, the sodium becomes lower and horses do not necessarily want to drink. Thirst can often be stimulated by administering electrolytes orally.

Determining the real degree of dehydration is a veterinary endeavor, and relies on laboratory tests. Until a definitive diagnosis of the underlying condition is made, your vet may treat your horse symptomatically for dehydration by providing oral or IV fluids and electrolytes.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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