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Electrolytes the Basics

Tracy Soward-Amalfi: Equine Nutritionist

Summer is around the corner! Be prepared!

Living in Queensland and having horses, owners must be aware that during the summer month’s horses will sweat a lot. The more a horse sweats the more electrolytes they loose. It is important that your horse receives adequate electrolytes to prevent and minimize several serious conditions such as dehydration, anhydrosis and the thumps.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are minerals that are dissolved in the blood and within cell fluids as electrically charged salts or” ions”. These salts are either acid or alkaline and the horse’s body usually keeps a careful balance between the two. The function of electrolytes is to aid in nerve transmission, muscle contraction and metabolic process and the control of water excretion. Electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, magnesium, phosphate, bicarbonate and hydrogen (acid). The horse can loose electrolytes in sweat, tears, and digestive secretions and in urine and droppings.

Simply giving horses a hand full of regular table salt is not adequate. As you can see above there are more electrolytes required than just sodium as stated some are acid and others alkaline. Electrolyte loss and the type of salts lost will depend on the climate and the type of work that the horse is undertaking.

Feeding a horse an electrolyte mix aids in restoring the salt levels in the horses body and to re-establish the balance between them. See your veterinary surgeon or local produce store and ask them for a reputable electrolyte mix suitable for a humid climate and the workload of your horse. Most importantly ensure that your horse has access to unlimited clean drinking water and help your horse stay healthy this summer.

 

Ask the Nutritionist

Why different brands of electrolytes contain different quantities of ingredients?”

Research has found that one electrolyte mix is not suitable for all horses in different exercise regimes. Horses that perform at moderate speed or for extended periods and those deemed “heavy sweaters” require an “acid” electrolyte base. In contrast horses under taking short, fast work or “light sweaters require an “alkaline” electrolyte mix.

Therefore electrolyte mixes of an alkaline nature have added bicarbonate and citrate to assist acid buffering and help to minimise muscle tissue damage. This type of mix is used for racing horses, show jumpers and barrel racers.

Most commonly required in equestrian pursuits is an acid electrolyte mix. This helps to prevent dehydration and helps to buffer alkalosis caused by heavy sweating.

The variation in ingredients is a reflection of the above electrolyte requirements and each company has a formula that they feel will meet the requirements of a rather wide range of horses. If you are concerned in particular about an individual horses needs consult with your veterinarian for further advice and if necessary specific testing.