Of Horse

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Winter Woes - Water Intake and Dehydration
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Winter Woes - Water Intake and Dehydration

Most horse owners will pay close attention to how much water their horses drink in the hot summer season, but do we watch as closely in the winter? I didn’t, until I learned some surprising facts about winter water intake.

It is true that horses need less water in the winter, so they will instinctively drink less. Most adult horses weighing 1,000 pounds should drink at least 10-12 gallons each day. Unfortunately, they often don’t drink enough, leading to dehydration, low blood pressure, colic, and even kidney damage. According to research collected at the University of Pennsylvania, there are anecdotal correlations between decreased water intake and fecal impaction colic. It is commonly said that a good temperature for their drinking water is 45 to 65 degrees, though some horses, especially those over 12 years old, may have sensitivity in their teeth to cold water. However, when offered very warm water, near 90 degrees, horses will drink up to 40% more water than when offered near-freezing water.

Thankfully, there are simple and affordable ways to counter this problem. If the horse is mostly indoors during the winter, warm water is easier to provide, but if the horse is kept outdoors during the winter, warming troughs in turn-outs can be more difficult.

Automatic waterers with heaters are available, but be sure that the piping is below the frost line to prevent bursting pipes. If a heated automatic waterer doesn’t sound right for you, there are other options, such as floating and submersible heaters. Floating heaters are usually completely covered in Styrofoam which is then covered by plastic, while the heater is controlled by a thermostat with an automatic shut off. Though popular among cattle owners, horses tend to have a more curious, playful nature, so it may not be practical for your horse.

There are multiple styles of submersible heaters. Most submersible heaters have thermostat control and an automatic shut off feature. The heater clamps securely to the side of the trough or bucket, with the heating elements lying along the bottom, preventing accidental burns. They are used under the watering container. Another style of heater is known as a drain plug heater. The unit is installed through the drain plug, keeping the electrical cords safely out of reach of curious muzzles or hooves. These also use the thermostat and automatic shut off feature. Non-submersible heaters can be less expensive and aren’t placed in the water at all. Most submersible and non-submersible heaters have thermostat control and automatic shut off features, though be sure to always check before use. If it does not have a thermostat and automatic shut off, never leave it unattended. When used in buckets or small troughs, they can heat water to near-boiling temperatures. It is much safer to choose a heater with the thermostat control and automatic shut off. Don’t rely completely on any automatic waterer or heater, because malfunctions can always happen, no matter how expensive the waterer is. The waterer should be checked daily to be sure it is operating correctly. The thermostats in most heaters and waterers are temperature adjustable and can be replaced if malfunctioning.

If all electric style heaters are unusable for your horses or at your barn, depending on the size of your watering container, you can add very hot water to the cold water in the trough to bring the temperature up, or simply offer buckets of warm tap water to your horses. If the water is too warm for you to be able to touch or drink, it is far too hot for your horses.

Free-choice salt, whether in blocks or loose salt should be offered year-round, which will also encourage water intake. If you have a horse like mine who stands at a salt block and can lick for hours, as long as the horse has plenty of clean, free-choice water, additional salt intake should not cause concerns.


Thank you for your interest and all comments are greatly welcomed and appreciated!



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