When to Add Electrolytes

When to Add Electrolytes
31 January 2017 | Margaret Wilson


Electrolytes should be supplemented to all horses in regular work. Horses lose electrolytes each time that they sweat and these electrolytes must be replaced.

The key to hydration and rehydration is of course water. All horses should have water available at all times. Hydration means ensuring that the body has enough water and rehydration is replacing the lost water, for example by sweating after exercise. But because the body loses electrolytes while sweating, water alone is not enough to keep the horse hydrated. We need to add electrolytes too.
Electrolytes are often more commonly discussed during the summer months when the humans are feeling the effects of the heat on their own brows, but now as the countdown is on to the pinnacle of National Hunt, racing electrolytes are just as important.

Electrolytes are the salts in the horse’s bloodstream. These are essential for the normal function of almost every system in the body, particularly muscle and nerve function in the exercising horse.
The electrolytes are:

  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium

However horses lose electrolytes when they sweat and so we must provide electrolytes in the diet to ensure good health and maximise performance.
While a balanced feed plan provides horses with most of the essential vitamins and minerals for daily function almost all feeds are lacking in the main electrolytes, sodium and chloride. In fact if you read the feed bag most feeds recommend adding salt to the diet on a daily basis. But who reads the back of the bag! There are a small number of specialised feeds, usually those designed for very hot climates, which do provide adequate daily levels of electrolytes.
Sodium and chloride together are however very easy to acquire, regular table salt is sodium chloride. Table salt can be added to the diet to balance electrolytes on a daily basis and is perfectly adequate in horses that are not sweating regularly. Salt licks serve a useful function in resting horses or horse in very light work but don’t meet the needs of horses in moderate work.
Horses that are in full work and sweating several times per week are losing more electrolytes than just sodium and chloride and so do need a more calculated electrolyte plan. In general, horse’s sweat contains approximately 56% chloride, 27% sodium, 15% potassium and smaller amounts of calcium and magnesium. While the amounts of potassium, magnesium and calcium lost are small, it all adds up when considered on a weekly basis and even tiny imbalances can mean losing a race or taking a longer time to recover post-race or from a competition.
Equi-Lyte G (available in a tub or sachets) is designed as a daily additive for horses in work and is formulated to include the optimum levels of electrolytes with the added protection of anti-oxidants vitamins c and e.
On race day, it is of benefit to provide an extra supply of electrolytes after performance. Refuel Gel provides concentrated electrolytes combined with vitamin e and b and glucose. Please note that adding glucose improves absorption of the electrolytes and improves recovery. Booster electrolytes such as Refuel can also be given on the morning of a competition.
NEVER GIVE ELECTROLYTES WITHOUT WATER BEING AVAILABLE. And yes, horses can have water after a race or competition, there is no need to withhold water.
Don’t forget to ensure good water and electrolyte intake in all horses that have increased loss of sweat/water from the body.  This includes horses that have had diarrhoea, older horses with Cushing’s that are sweating to a small extent but over long periods, horses that have sweated during travel and mares after foaling.
Got a question about electrolytes? Why not contact one of our expert equine team.

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