As temperatures drop, it is important to know the impact of cold weather on your horse’s water intake. With Haygain, we delve into the reasons why horses might drink less in cold weather, and why it is so important for horses to stay hydrated even during winter.
Why are horses more at risk of dehydration in winter?
Dehydration occurs when a horse has not taken in enough water. There are two simple reasons why this may occur more often in winter than the rest of the year. First, when temperatures drop, the available water temperature also drops.
Research has shown that horses drink more water when it is warm or lukewarm; this means they may turn their noses up at very cold water. Old horses with broken or worn-out teeth may find cold or semi-frozen water very painful, making them vulnerable to winter dehydration.
Secondly, in the winter months many domestic horses spend more time eating dry forage than meadow grass. Hay is nothing more than dry grass, so the absence of moisture should not be surprising. When undergoing rapid changes in feeding routines, horses may lose the liquid they would normally take from grass.
What happens to dehydrated horses?
Physical signs of dehydration in horses include sunken eyes, tight skin and fatigue. These signs indicate that the horse has lost about 5 percent of its body weight in water; this means that a 500 kg horse will have lost 22 kg of fluid, the equivalent of a large bag of hard feed-a considerable amount!
Interestingly, the mechanism that triggers the sensation of thirst (caused by high blood sodium levels) is slower in horses because they sweat sodium more readily than humans. This means that the blood sodium concentration remains low even when they have been sweating a lot, and your horse will not get thirsty as quickly.
If your horse undertakes strenuous exercise in winter, it is worth keeping an eye on him and taking steps to encourage him to drink.
Dehydration can lead to even more serious health complications for our equines, such as constipation colic, caused by a buildup of dry feed or forage in the large intestine or colon. Cases of constipation colic that need to be treated by the veterinarian increase in the winter months, when horses eat more dry forage and drink less water.
How to make horses drink in winter?
It is now clear that it is important to make sure a horse does not become dehydrated in the winter to reduce the risk of constipation colic and ensure that he is happy and healthy. Here are a number of steps worth taking that can easily fit into the stable management routine:
Warm water in the forage
Add warm or slightly warm water to any chopped forage or hard feed, so the horse will take in fluids without drinking more water.
Apple juice in water
Try adding apple juice to the water-but be sure to offer them ‘plain’ water as well, in case they turn their noses up at the flavored option. Some horses have shown a preference for flavored water and will drink more of it than regular water.
Hot water in buckets
Add hot water to buckets, feeders and troughs as often as possible in the winter months-we know that horses are more likely to drink lukewarm or slightly warm water, so it is worth boiling the kettle a couple of times a day.
Steams the hay with Haygain!
Steams the hay! A hay bale Steamed with Haygain contains up to 3 times more moisture than a dry one, a great way to introduce more fluids “on the sly.”
Steam purification of hay also has many other surprising benefits, such as reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases of the respiratory tract due to dust in hay, and eliminating most of the molds, fungi and bacteria in hay.