Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Not Drinking Water, Difficulty Drinking or Not Thirsty

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

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

Generally, water consumption for a normal horse is about 1 gallon per 100 lbs (50kg) of body weight per day. Horses usually drink as much as they need, although in cold weather (and sometimes when stressed or traveling) they tend to drink less.

Some problems that cause horses to drink less water are serious. Sometimes, exhausted, dehydrated, or otherwise very sick horses will not drink water despite their need for it. Rarely, a horse cannot swallow or has pain in the mouth that is preventing water intake. The most common complication of inadequate water intake is intestinal impaction, causing signs of abdominal pain (colic).


Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to heart rate, gum color, capillary refill time and hydration with skin pinch. Assess your horse’s mouth (wear gloves) looking for any other abnormalities. Consider the horse’s appetite and attitude otherwise. Discuss discuss your findings with your vet.

Keep track of the amount of water that your horse is drinking by using buckets or water tanks rather than an automatic waterer. Also try to monitor urine amount and color, and continue to assess hydration.

Always ensure that your horse has constant access to clean, fresh water. If they are not consuming at least 5 gallons of water per day, consider supplementing with powdered or paste electrolytes to stimulate thirst. Electrolyte supplementation should be added to feed, or fed directly. A reasonable amount of salt (NaCl) to add to a daily ration is 1-2 oz, depending on size. You can also give a dose of commercial electrolyte paste to stimulate drinking.

Note: If your horse’s water source is heated or near electrical wiring, it may rarely be electrified due to faulty wiring, which can cause a tiny painful shock each time your horse tries to drink.


Your vet performs a careful physical exam to rule out certain conditions and assess hydration. Blood work and urinalysis may give very valuable additional information. If the horse seems otherwise normal, they may suggest some methods to increase thirst and water consumption.

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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