What to do When a Horse is Dehydrated

dehydrated horse

Dehydration is a serious issue for horses, especially during hot and humid weather. Dehydration occurs when there is a loss of fluids from the body, resulting in an imbalance of electrolytes and other important nutrients. Horses that are dehydrated can experience a range of symptoms, including lethargy, loss of appetite, and even colic. In this article, we will explore the signs and symptoms of dehydration in horses and the appropriate measures to take to ensure that a dehydrated horse is adequately hydrated.

What is Dehydration?

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, resulting in a lack of water in the body. In horses, dehydration can occur for a variety of reasons, including excessive sweating, not drinking enough water, and illness. When a horse becomes dehydrated, it can lead to serious health complications, such as kidney damage, colic, and even death.

Signs of Dehydration in a Horse

As a horse owner, it is important to be able to recognize the signs of dehydration in your horse. Some of the most common signs include:

  • Sunken eyes: When a horse is dehydrated, its eyes may appear sunken or dull.
  • Dry mucous membranes: If your horse’s gums, nose, and mouth are dry and sticky, it may be a sign of dehydration.
  • Thick, dark urine: Dehydrated horses may produce less urine than usual, and the urine may be thicker and darker in color.
  • Slow capillary refill time: When you press on your horse’s gum with your finger, it should turn white, then quickly return to its original color. If it takes longer than two seconds to return to its original color, it may be a sign of dehydration.
  • Loss of skin elasticity: Dehydrated horses may have less elastic skin, meaning that when you pinch the skin, it takes longer to return to its original position.
  • Lethargy: Horses that are dehydrated may appear lethargic or tired and may be less responsive than usual.

Symptoms of Dehydration in Horses

In addition to the signs listed above, horses may exhibit other symptoms of dehydration, including:

  • Increased heart rate: Dehydrated horses may have a faster-than-normal heart rate.
  • Elevated body temperature: Dehydration can cause a horse’s body temperature to rise.
  • Loss of appetite: Horses that are dehydrated may not want to eat or may have a decreased appetite.
  • Weight loss: Chronic dehydration can cause a horse to lose weight.
  • Depression: Horses that are dehydrated may appear depressed or uninterested in their surroundings.
  • Muscle weakness: Dehydration can cause a horse to become weak and unsteady on its feet.

Horse Dehydration Treatment

If you suspect that your horse is dehydrated, it is important to take action immediately. The longer a horse goes without proper hydration, the more serious the health consequences can be. Here are some steps you can take to treat dehydration in horses:

  • Provide water: The first step in treating dehydration is to provide your horse with access to fresh, clean water. You may need to encourage your horse to drink by adding an electrolyte supplement or soaking their hay in water.
  • Administer electrolytes: Electrolytes are important minerals that help to maintain fluid balance in the body. If your horse is dehydrated, it may need additional electrolytes to help it recover. You can administer electrolytes by adding a supplement to your horse’s feed or water.
  • Offer wet feed: Horses that are dehydrated may not want to eat dry hay or grain. Offering wet feed, such as soaked hay or beet pulp, can help to increase your horse’s water intake and provide additional hydration.
  • Provide shade and shelter: If your horse is dehydrated, it may be more sensitive to heat and sunlight. Providing shade and shelter can help to keep your horse cool and reduce the risk of further dehydration.
  • Monitor vital signs: It is important to monitor your horse’s vital signs, such as heart rate and temperature, to ensure that it is recovering properly. If your horse’s vital signs do not improve or if it appears to be getting worse, you should contact your veterinarian.
  • Consult with a veterinarian: If your horse is severely dehydrated or if its condition does not improve with basic treatment, you should consult with a veterinarian. Your veterinarian may recommend additional treatment, such as intravenous fluids, to help your horse recover.d at the vet’s office or in the field, depending on the severity of the dehydration.

Preventing Dehydration in Horses

Preventing dehydration is always better than treating it. There are several steps you can take to ensure that your horse stays adequately hydrated. The first step is to provide your horse with clean, fresh water at all times. You should also ensure that the water is not too cold or too hot, as horses may be less likely to drink water that is too extreme in temperature.

Another way to prevent dehydration in horses is to provide them with access to shade and shelter. Horses can become dehydrated quickly in hot and sunny weather, so it is important to provide them with a shaded area to rest in. Additionally, horses should be allowed access to shelter during rain or inclement weather, as getting wet can lead to dehydration.

Feeding your horse a balanced diet can also help to prevent dehydration. Horses require a diet that is rich in fiber and nutrients, and they should have access to fresh hay or pasture at all times. In addition, you can add electrolyte supplements to their feed to help replenish the minerals and nutrients lost through sweating and urination.

Finally, it is essential to monitor your horse’s hydration levels regularly. This can be done by checking their skin elasticity and mucous membrane moisture, as well as observing their behavior and appetite. If you notice any signs of dehydration, it is important to act quickly to ensure that your horse stays healthy and hydrated.


If you suspect that your horse is dehydrated, it is important to act quickly and offer them water and electrolytes. In severe cases, intravenous fluids may be necessary, and it is important to consult with a veterinarian. By taking steps to prevent dehydration and monitoring your horse’s hydration levels regularly, you can help to ensure that your horse stays healthy and hydrated.

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