What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Not Drinking Water, Difficulty Drinking or Not Thirsty


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).

  • 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.

your role


What To Do

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.

What Not To Do

Do not over-use electrolytes. If the recommended dose does not stimulate thirst, dosing again should only be done as directed by your vet.

your vet's role

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.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's veterinary and travel history?
  • Is the horse eating and acting normally?
  • Does the horse act depressed?
  • Does the horse have constant access to fresh water?
  • Has the water source changed recently?
  • Do the horses have access to open (or warmed) water?
  • How much water is your horse drinking per day?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • How large is your horse?
  • Is the horse exhausted after exercise?
  • What is the horse's water source?
  • Are you supplementing feed or water with electrolytes?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Does the horse have access to salt?
  • Does the horse have any other health problems?
  • How much exercise does the horse get?
  • What other health problems does the horse have?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP