Do I need to worry about dehydration in the winter? Yes!
Most of us are awesomely aware of TPR - your horse’s temp, pulse, and respirations. It’s vital for us to know what the normal, everyday baseline is for our horses. As we monitor these vitals daily, we can be alerted to problems before we see any other signs of them.
Let’s add H into the TPR mix for hydration. I bring this up because in the summer, we can have dehydrated horses in hot conditions due to temperatures and sweating, and in the winter decreased water intake can also lead to dehydration.
There are a few ways to check the baseline hydration for your horse.
- The pinch test is a common one, simply pinch a bit of skin high on the neck or the point of shoulder area. A well hydrated horse will snap his skin back quickly. A dehydrated horse takes a few seconds for the skin to be flat again.
- You also need to look at your horse’s gums. Tacky or dry gums indicate dehydration.
- A capillary refill test (press your thumb into the gums and notice how long it takes for the pink color to return) is also a way to check.
- If you think your horse is becoming dehydrated, please call your Veterinarian for help. It may be very simple to rectify, or an IV may be necessary.
Clean water helps, too!
Severe dehydration can lead to lethargy, increased heart rates, depression and colic. It can be quite dangerous. In the winter, horses typically drink less than in the summer, for a few reasons. Often, their buckets or troughs are just plain frozen over and they can’t drink. You may (or may not) be interested to know this about horses - they prefer to drink the coldest water available, but they do so in the smallest volumes. Warm water is consumed in much greater volumes, but won’t be touched if cold water is available. Because horses like to give us even more to think about and do during horrid weather.
Bottom line - get your winter water as warm as you can, without giving your horse an option for cold water. You have a few ways to do this, there are lots and lots of contraptions out there to help keep your buckets and tanks ice free and even warm. A word of warning - there are lots of models of plug in water heaters that look like a few heater coils at the end of a long wand that you drop into a bucket. These are dangerous to use unattended, and really are more for heating water for bathing and cleaning, not drinking. Because they also stick out of the bucket, your horse could play/eat/yank on the cord. Never let your horse even be around one of these. Similar designs that rest on the bottom of troughs, buckets, and automatic waterers are more apporpriate.
Many automatic waterers are super at keeping water warm.
For buckets, you can try bucket insulating “cozy” type warmers. These work by trapping heat in the bucket, so start with warm water. They don’t require electricity (safe) and can be easily washed in the laundry. For you water troughs and tanks, there are lots of de-icing products out there, be sure to get one that has a “thermostatically controlled” off switch. Most are designed to be at the bottom of the tank, away from nosy horses. Auto - off features are essential.
What do you do in the winter for bucket warming and keeping your horse hydrated?