By. Casie Bazay
It’s summer, aka the sweatiest time of the year. Hooray!
And while sure, there are things to enjoy (like swimming, ice cubes, and air conditioning), outdoor activities such as barn chores and riding often leave us reaching for a Gatorade. But what about our horses? Do they need the equine equivalent of a sports drink full of electrolytes too?
First off, let’s discuss what electrolytes are exactly and a little bit about how they function in the body. Electrolytes are minerals that help to regulate many bodily processes. The main ones include Sodium (Na), Chloride (Cl), Potassium (K), Magnesium (Mg), and Calcium (Ca).
In solid form, electrolytes bond into salts (such as sodium chloride) but when dissolved in water, they break down into individual ions, which carry a positive or negative charge. These charges allow them to conduct electricity and assist in electrochemical processes such as regulating heartbeat and muscle contraction.
But wait, electrolytes do more! They also aid in moving fluids in and out of cells and help the body to absorb nutrients. Without electrolytes, the water your horse drinks cannot be properly retained or utilized by the body.
In short, electrolytes are super important.
Like us, horses lose electrolytes through sweat, urine, and feces. Most of these minerals are replaced when your horse consumes grass, hay, and/or feed, with the exception being sodium and chloride, which should always be supplemented with either a salt block or loose salt.
So let’s get back to the question at hand: do horses need added electrolytes in the summer?
The answer depends on how much they’re sweating. If your horse sweats for a prolonged period of time, either because of high temperatures and/or humidity, intense exercise, or all of the above, electrolyte losses can be high and therefore will need to be supplemented.
This goes for endurance horses and those competing in three-day eventing or possibly long-distance trail riding. Electrolyte supplementation is also a good idea if a horse is being shipped long distance in hot weather and for those with Cushing’s disease who may sweat more just standing in the pasture.
How to feed electrolytes
Electrolytes can generally be supplemented in feed, added to water, or in paste or gel form. After a period of prolonged sweating, it’s recommended that electrolytes be provided for several days to make up for losses. You can even give electrolytes to your horse before a big event if you know he’s likely to be sweating a great deal. Continue to give electrolytes during the event as well.
When looking for an electrolyte supplement, make sure that sodium chloride is first on the list of ingredients, followed by potassium chloride. Many electrolytes are sugar-based and while horses may prefer them, they aren’t as effective.
With that said, it’s not a good idea to over-supplement with electrolytes, especially if your horse isn’t sweating much as they may irritate the digestive tract or even throw your horse’s mineral balance out of whack.
Many horses won’t need electrolytes at all in summer, but if your horse does, remember to supplement wisely!
Equine First Aid Kit
All horse owners should have an equine first aid kit & know how to use all of the supplies. At least twice yearly, examine & replenish outdated supplies. Store your first aid kit in your home or temperature controlled space. Leaving it in a trailer or uninsulated tack room will quickly degrade the supplies. Talk to your veterinarian about customizing your first-aid kit for your horse’s particular needs.
Thermometer, Mercury or Digital
Stethoscope (good quality)
Headlight (good quality)
Proper Fitting Halter & Lead Rope
Latex Gloves (12)
Watch or Timepiece with Second Hand
Tweezers or Forceps (smooth jaws)
Non-Sterile Gauze – 4″x4″ Squares (1 package)
Conform® or Kling® Gauze 4″ (2 rolls)
Elastic Adhesive Bandage (Elasticon®) 3″ (2 rolls)
Cohesive Bandage (Vetrap®) 4″ (2 rolls)
Non-Adhesive Wound Dressing (Telfa® pads) 3″x4″ (2) & 3″x8″ (2)
Povidone Iodine (Betadine®) Solution (4 oz)
Antiseptic Scrub, Chlorhexidine or Povidone Iodine (Betadine®) Scrub (4 oz)
Small Plastic Containers for Mixing or Storage (2)
Wound Lavage or Cleaning Bottle, Saline (250 ml)
Tongue Depressors (6)
Alcohol Wipes (10)
Spray Bottle for Water (1)
Paper Towels (1 roll)
Multi-Purpose Tool, Leatherman® or Equivalent
Cotton Lead Rope (3/4″ – 1″ in diameter)
Electrolytes (paste or powder)
Fly Repellent Ointment (1)
Heavy Plastic Bags (2 – gallon & 2 – pint size)
Cotton, Rolled Sheets, Leg Cottons (2)
Standing Wrap & Quilt or Shipping Boots
Easy Boot or Equivalent in Appropriate Size
Baby Diapers (2) (size 4 to 6 depending on hoof size)
Triple Antibiotic Ointment (1 tube)
Extra Halter & Lead Rope
Syringe 35 cc (1)
Syringe 12cc (3)
Syringe 3 cc (3)
Syringe 3cc with 20gauge needle (3)
Syringe – 60 cc cath tip (2)
Needles – 18gauge – x 1.5″ (4)
Needles – 20 gauge – x1.5″ (4)
Eye Wash, Saline (1 bottle)
Opthalmic Ointment or Drops (1 bottle or tube)
Magnesium Sulfate, Epsom Salts (1 package)
Duct Tape (1 roll)
Clippers with #40 Blade (good quality)
Crease Nail Puller
Hoof File, Rasp
Farrier’s Driving Hammer
Collapsible Water Bucket
Bute Banamine Bordered
Talk to your veterinarian about dispensing a few medicines that you may use in an emergency. In most, if not all states, a veterinarian cannot legally dispense prescription items without a valid Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR).
• Flunixin Meglumine (Banamine®) (injectable or paste)
• Phenylbutazone, Bute Paste (1)
• Trimethoprim-Sulfa Tablets SMZ-TMP in small container (75#)
Due to Draft horses being prone to certain diseases such as, metabolic ailments like PSSM (Polysaccharide storage myopathy), laminitis, Cushings, founder, tying-up, and shivers diet is imperative. Based on these ailments, starch and sugar calories should be replaced by fiber and fat calories.
It is recommended that these guys have high quality forage and some concentrates while working due to their slower metabolism (similar to ponies). Meaning that the less energy they use, the more weight they gain. High carbohydrate feed should be avoided, as a forage with a rational balancer and/or a low NSC feed.
Breakdown of How To Feed A Draft Horse
- 15% daily calories from sugar
- 20-25% daily calories from, fat
- No less than 1% of horse’s body weight in forage
Calculating Fat Content:
Pounds of feed per day x % of fat
3 lbs of feed= 3 x 0.25= 0.75 lb fat
Feeds should have no more than 33% sugar and starch (low carb).
Low in starch and sugars: soy, beat pulp, wheat bran, wheat middlings
Feeds with 20%+ of fat should be supplemented with rice bran (20% fat). Feed with anything less than 20% should be supplemented with 100% additional fat source.
- Nutrena Compete
- Purina Strategy
- Blue Seal Hunter, Demand, Vintage Gold
- Southern States Legend
- Oil: soy oil, canola, corn oil, rice bran
- Vitamin E & Selenium supplement (be careful when adding in selenium as high levels can be toxic)
- Either Purina Strategy or Southern States Legend: No more than 5-6 lbs of feed per 1000 lbs
- Rice Bran Oil: begin with 1/4 cup and increase by 1/4 cup every few days until 2 cups are reached. Continue with 3-4 cups per day.
- Vitamin E with Selenium: 1-2 oz per day
- Forage: Alfalfa pellets mixed or substituted with Purina or Southern States feed
Mix 12 parts alfalfa (or Purina or Southern States Feed or mix of the two) with 1 part water. Soak for 10 minutes. Add in oil. Let it sit for 2+ hours. Right before feeding add in the supplement (Vet E/Selenium).
Learn equine biosecurity basics for the farm, horse show, and breeding shed to protect your horses from infectious diseases.
— Read on thehorse.com/features/practical-biosecurity-tips-to-protect-your-horse/
#1 Abdominal Pain, Colic Signs Perform Whole Horse Exam™ (WHE) Assess Color of Mucous Membranes Assess Demeanor or Attitude Assess Gut or Intestinal Sounds Assess Manure Assess Capillary Refill Time (CRT) by examining Gums Give Intramuscular (IM) Injection Give Oral Medication Sand Sediment Test…
— Read on horsesidevetguide.com/Common+Horse+Emergencies+and+the+Skills+You+Need+to+Help
Horses Require Extra Attention when Temperatures Plummet
With freezing temperatures comes the need for extra care and attention for horses and other equids.
The growing season some parts of the nation had last year produced overly stemmy or fibrous hay with a lower digestibility. As a result, making certain that horses are supplemented with grain when fed lower quality hay will help them maintain body weight and condition, a key factor in withstanding cold temperatures.
Constant access to clean, fresh water at 35 to 50°F is an absolute necessity to keeping horses healthy. This can be achieved via heated tanks or buckets, or by filling a tank, letting it freeze, cutting an access hole in the frozen surface, and then always filling the tank to below the level of the hole from that point on. This provides a self-insulating function and will typically keep the water below from freezing. Regardless of the method you choose, it’s important to check tanks frequently to ensure your horse’s water remains free of ice.
Additional ways to keep horses comfortable in cold weather include making sure they have access to shelter. A well-bedded, three-sided shed facing south or east will typically provide adequate protection from wind and snow, as can appropriate bluffs or treed areas.
When the temperatures get colder, mature horses will not typically move around much in an effort to conserve energy. Making an attempt to keep hay, shelter, and water fairly close together can limit the energy expenditure required, thus conserving body condition.
And, finally, keeping horses at a body condition score of 5 or 6 (on a 9-point scale) will help prevent surprises when horses shed their winter hair in the spring, and improve conception rates for those choosing to breed.
The facts of life and death – correct carcass disposal an essential part of biosecurity plans
By Dr Sarah-Jane Wilson, Livestock Biosecurity Network Northern Regional Manager
Death, unfortunately, is one of the most inescapable elements of life and one that, when it occurs within the livestock production chain, raises a litany of biosecurity issues.
Animal carcasses can pose a serious risk to both human and animal health, can jeopardise biosecurity and impose a range of environmental impacts if not properly disposed of. These risks can include polluting water courses, spreading disease and interfering with community amenity.
The old practice of simply leaving a carcass anywhere in the paddock to rot simply does not stack up in a modern livestock industry where the implications of incorrect carcass management are better understood.
In fact, depending on where you live, there may be local, state or national regulatory requirements that relate to your on-farm waste management procedures and I encourage you to make yourself familiar with these obligations.
We strongly recommend carcass disposal is integrated into your on-farm biosecurity plan and that you consider the methods available to dispose of animal carcasses or animal waste products including hide, gut or bones after home slaughter or wool that is not suitable for baling. Another important consideration is the equipment you may need to assist in this disposal.
If you live on a small farm, your best alternative may be to engage a specialist disposal service as opposed to burial or on-site burning. Again, there may be some regulatory requirements for producers in higher density areas and I encourage you to seek the advice of your local council or departmental staff to ensure you adhere to any applicable guidelines. Generally speaking burial is often the most practical and preferred method of disposal on a small farm if you do not have access to a disposal service.
For all producers, your geographic location and common endemic diseases should be taken into consideration. For example, if you live in a botulism affected area, burning is the recommended and preferred method. Botulism spores can live in the soil for many years, so simply burying the carcass will not suffice.
If you have multiple sudden deaths in your herd or flock, and/or do not know the cause of death, then it is best practice to investigate. Your local veterinarian or animal health/biosecurity officer may be able to provide further information. If you suspect an emergency or unusual disease, you should report this as soon as possible to your local animal health authority.
For more information, the NSW Environmental Protection Agency and the Tasmanian Environmental Protection Agency provide some good advice, as do most of the other applicable state departments, on how to effectively and responsibly dispose of the livestock carcasses on your property.
Choosing a site (Source: NSW EPA)
If the carcasses must be disposed of on-site, it is preferable to have:
- A burial area at least 100m away from houses or watercourses
- The pit base at least 1m above the level of the watertable
- Heavy soil of low permeability and good stability
- Good access to the site for earthmoving machinery and stock transport unless the stock are to be walked in for slaughter.
Other pit considerations (Source: Tas EPA)
- Sawdust can be added to the bottom of pits to reduce risk of leachate generation
- It is not recommended that lime be added to pits unless there is a biosecurity reason for doing so as this will reduce the decomposition rate of the carcasses
- Surface drainage should be directed away from the pit location by setting up diversion drains up slope of the pit location
- When full, the pit must be covered with a minimum of 1m soil. The soil should be mounded over the pit to prevent rain collecting and it should be remembered the pit cover will subside as the carcasses break down.
If you need to burn (Source: NSW EPA)
- To reduce swelling during decomposition, the abdomens and paunches of all the carcasses should be opened to allow gases to escape.
- The carcasses should be sprayed with sump oil if immediate burial or burning is impractical.
- They should be heaped in a secluded spot away from watercourses and sump oil should be spread liberally over the heap. The oil discourages flies and scavenger and the heap can then be burned later.
Planning ahead for what to do with a carcass or, multiple carcasses in the event of a natural disaster, can substantially reduce the stress of the moment. It can also make a dramatic contribution to the biosecurity soundness of your property and our greater livestock industries.
Here at LBN we’ve designed a small template to assist producers in thinking through the options that best work for them. This can be found at: http://www.lbn.org.au/farm-biosecurity-tools/on-farm-biosecurity-planning-tools/.
- Dr Sarah-Jane Wilson is the Livestock Biosecurity Network’s regional officer for Northern Australia. She can be contacted or 0437 725 877 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Dr. Tom Lenz on behalf of AQHA
Few horse owners are aware of this disease which is a progressive, paralyzing disease that is 80-100% fatal in affected horses. Botulism is sometimes referred to as “forage poisoning” in adult horses or “shaker foal syndrome” in foals. The disease is caused by a potent toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium lives in the soil as well as the intestinal tract of many normal birds and mammals, including the horse. It produces dormant spores that can be found in 18.5% of soil samples tested in the United States. The disease is most prevalent in Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, California, and Tennessee although it can occur in any state in the U.S. Clostridium botulinum produces several different toxins. Type A toxins are often implicated in human infant botulism and are most often found west of the Rocky Mountains. Types B, C, and D toxins are usually involved in cases of equine botulism, with Type B responsible for 85% of horse cases in the U.S.
Horses of any age are susceptible to botulism which may be initiated by one of three ways. In the case of “forage poisoning” the horse ingests toxins that are contaminating feedstuffs such as grain or hay. Feed contamination is most often due to putrefied carcasses of birds or rodents. A Type C botulism outbreak that killed a number of horses in California several years ago was traced back to hay that contained the infected carcass of a rabbit. The bacteria can also enter a horse’s body via contamination of a wound, especially a deep puncture wound. A good example is “Shaker foal syndrome” which is most frequently caused by the bacteria entering the newborn foal’s body through the foal’s moist navel. Something that can be minimized by dipping the foal’s navel in mild iodine solution soon after birth. The third method in which the disease can be initiated is by ingestion of the spores in the soil. The ingested spores activate in the horse’s intestinal tract where they produce potent toxins that are then absorbed. Regardless of the route, once the bacteria have entered the horse’s body they produce toxins that block transmission of nerve impulses to the horse’s muscles. This results in a progressive paralysis of all the major muscle groups and is concluded with paralysis of the diaphragm, which results in death. Once symptoms develop, death may ensue in several hours or take up to a week.
The disease is difficult to diagnose because it resembles several other medical conditions and diseases such as choke, colic, rabies, EPM, and sleeping sickness. Blood samples very rarely contain toxin and necropsy following the death of the horse usually does not provide a conclusive diagnosis. Because the bacteria often occur naturally in the horse’s intestinal tract, isolation of the organism from the sick horse’s intestine is not diagnostic.
Clinical signs of the disease in adult horses suffering from “forage poisoning” initially include loss of facial expression, a sleepy appearance, saliva drooling from the corner of the mouth, loss of tongue control and loss of tail tone. The horse’s appetite is good, but it has a great deal of difficulty in chewing food and appears to be “playing” in their feed and water buckets. As muscular weakness becomes more profound, the horse will experience muscle trembling, generalized sweating and labored breathing. A weakened, shuffling gait may develop and the horse may take stiff, short steps as if walking on eggs. Eventually, the horse goes down and death results due to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. “Shaker foal syndrome” is usually seen in foals one to two months of age but can develop as early as two weeks or as late as 8 months of age. Early signs in foals are similar to those seen in adults in that the foal shows generalized weakness, poor tail tone, and loss of tongue control. The foal will often dribble milk from the mouth and nostrils because of an inability to swallow. Because of muscle weakness, the foal will lie down frequently. When it does rise, it soon develops muscle tremors and collapses. Affected foals may die within 12 hours of exhibiting symptoms or may linger for as long as a week.
Botulism is usually fatal if left untreated. Prior to the advent of antitoxin, the death rate among affected foals was greater than 90%. With the use of antitoxins in conjunction with antibiotics and supportive therapy, the mortality rate can be reduced to less than 25%. Animals unable to swallow should be fed through a nasogastric tube and placed on IV fluids. Once the toxin produced by the bacteria is attached to the nerve ending it cannot be neutralized by the antitoxin. Therefore, early treatment is critical. Even with aggressive therapy, recovery is slow and may require up to two weeks before the affected horse recovers.
Because of the high death rate and the difficulty in diagnosing this disease, prevention through vaccination is critical. A Type-B Toxoid vaccine is available and is quite effective in preventing the disease. In areas where the disease is prevalent, pregnant mares should be initially vaccinated at the 8th, 9th and 10th month of gestation and thereafter at the 10th month of each pregnancy. Yearly vaccination of adults in areas where the disease frequently occurs is also recommended. If unable to vaccinate the mare prior to foaling, limited information suggests that foals vaccinated with the toxoid at 2 weeks, 4 weeks and at 8 weeks of age developed adequate protection, even in the presence of passive maternal antibodies. Currently, no licensed vaccines are available for preventing botulism due to Cl. botulinum types A or C or other subtypes of toxins. Cross-protection between subtypes does not occur.
As in all horse health issues, your local veterinarian is your best source of information.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thomas R. Lenz, DVM, M.S., Diplomate of the American College of Theriogenologists, is a trustee of the American Horse Council, past chairman of AQHA’s research committee and past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. This article is provided courtesy of AAEP Alliance Partner, AQHA.
Reviewed and updated by original author in 2016.