As a horse owner, I am pretty sure no day goes by without you wondering how best you can provide your horse with the best care. Or maybe you’re aspiring to get a horse and certain questions are swimming through your head.
You just might be thinking, “how long can a horse go without water? how often do I have to feed it? how much money and time will it cost me?“. Thinking of these questions can easily get stressful as there are a lot of factors you need to consider and understand, like proper grooming, grazing and the little details of how healthy your horse is.
However, as we well know, the importance of certain factors outweigh the others and if you ask any experienced horse owner which are the core factors when it comes to horses, their answer is going to be food and water.
However, there is something they often don’t say, and that is, that for horses the most important factor you should consider is water. It sounds a bit strange, yes? But let me assure you that, in a horse’s diet, nothing is more important than water. Also, like some of you reading, I recently found this out after I got wondering how long horses can actually survive without water.
So stick with me if you want to learn the answer.
How Long Can A Horse Go Without Water?
Now, for the question which also doubles as our main topic, here’s the answer.
Interestingly, a horse can go without food for at least a month or almost a month. However, when it comes to water, a horse can’t last more than five days without it. When a horse goes without water for say, 48 hours, it starts to show signs of colic and after a while, it quickly develops into lethargy or an impaction.
For a horse, the worse possible thing is dehydration and this is mainly as a result of their build. A horse’s build, as well as other factors, lead to the negative effects it faces when it is deprived of water, which can be summed as dehydration.
So let’s look at these factors:
- For one, the muscles of a horse are made up of 75% of water, while its brain is made up of, interestingly, 85% of water and its bones are made up of 30% of water. In all, water makes up around 60% of a horse, increasing their need to drink water.
- The next factor is a horse’s need and use of electrolytes. In a horse’s anatomy, electrolytes are utilized by the horse to transfer water through its cell membranes. This is in order to keep the horse’s system balanced and correctly working. And when a horse loses too much water and electrolytes, it will lead to the horse’s body becoming stressed, which will quickly and ultimately lead to the development of physiological issues, like reduced muscle functions, muscle spasms, fatigue and a whole lot more.
- Like all humans, horses can suffer from dehydration caused by excessive activities. This is because horses can also sweat. Also, sweating in a horse mostly serves the same function as sweating in humans, which is, to rid their bodies of excessive heat. In addition, like most humans, horses go through a lot of exercises and are put through different activities and often times with limited rest. Hence, sweating from such excessive activities will undoubtedly cause the loss of electrolytes, as well as the loss of essential fluid reserves, which it needs to preserve its life.
Apart from the core factors given above, there are other factors that can cause a horse to face dehydration. They include an abnormally high body temperature or fever, a bout with diarrhea, riding or athletic events and sometimes cold weather.
The said factors are what responsible owners should look out for and consider as they try to protect their horses. However, with regard to protecting our horses from suffering dehydration, I believe that quick action is needed. In light of this, it is best as responsible horse owners to be able to spot if your horse is hydrated or not.
That is, to be able to note the symptoms of dehydration before it leaves lasting issues on your horse.
How To Tell When Your Horse Is Dehydrated
The Horse’s Respiration and Heart Rate
This is an easy and excellent way to check your horse’s health. The best thing is, anyone can do it. You just have to watch closely and observe your horse’s breathing rate, as well as its heartbeats. For your average healthy horse, the normal breathing rate is around 8 to 12 breaths per minute. When this is increased then you know something is not quite right.
Now, when your horse is dehydrated, you will notice it taking more frequent and shallow breaths. And when that happens you should try to hydrate your horse as quickly as possible. The second part of this tip is your horse’s heart rate. For your average healthy horse, its resting heartbeat is an average of 36 to 42 times per minute.
So if you check its pulse and it’s above 60 per minute, this is an indication of dehydration. However, oftentimes, slight miscalculation may render your results inaccurate.
The Pinch Test
Here, we have another easy and straightforward method anyone can utilize in determining whether their horse is dehydrated. The pinch test works because like humans, a horse’s skin loses its elasticity when the horse is in a state of dehydration. Hence, if you pinch up a fold of your horse’s skin, preferably around the base of its neck or its lower chest or anywhere along the horse’s back, and you hold it for say two seconds, before letting go, the skin will spring back up if the horse is not dehydrated.
However, if the horse is dehydrated, the skin will likely stay up in a ridge. Also, with this method, you can test the severity of the level of dehydration, for is the skin stays in a ridge for more than ten seconds, you are advised to contact your veterinarian.
Final Thoughts on How Long Can A Horse Go Without Water?
Coupled with the above methods, other ways you can check if your horse is hydrated is by examining its eyes and gums, as well as checking its urine or if it has passed any in a while. In light of all that has been given above, it is quite clear to see that dehydration does quite a number on our horses. So I implore each and every horse owner to always be on the lookout for the symptoms of dehydration, and if you, unfortunately, find symptoms in your horse, there are several little things you can do before the veterinary becomes your only option.
For example, start administering fluids and electrolyte solutions, which you can easily acquire. This should be followed by giving your horse a nice bath. However, do take note that, if your horse is dehydrated, rehydrating by giving it a bath isn’t that advisable, when you’re in the winter season, as it can to certain issues, like water intoxication.
Also, I know that when most horse owners feel the dehydration level isn’t that severe they tend to solve it, by only providing water for the horse. However, you should note that this isn’t always sufficient to reiterate the horse, as water alone isn’t always sufficient to rehydrate your horse. Hence, it is best to add other effective rehydration therapies, instead of simply providing water.
For example, as stated above, you can add electrolyte preparations to the equation. However, it is still advisable to always seek advice from a veterinarian before taking any measures.