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Electrolyte Products Should Match Sweat

Reprinted from Horse Journal

What Are Electrolytes

Every cell in your horse’s body acts like a tiny battery, highly dependent on the correct concentrations of electrically charged particles both inside and outside the cells. These charges ions are electrolytes.

Electrolytes are nothing more than minerals dissolved in the horse’s blood stream. The horse must take in electrolytes/minerals year round to replace those lost in urine, saliva, bile, tears, mucus, and intestinal-tract secretion. Electrolytes are also lost in sweat, but the sweat losses are only part of the horse’s total daily needs.

The major electrolytes in blood are sodium and chloride, which together make salt. Inside cells, potassium substitutes for sodium. Other important electrolytes (minerals in free/dissolved form) include calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, and the trace minerals zinc, iron, copper, and manganese. Bicarbonate ion is also an electrolyte. Your horse manufactures this in a reaction that combined with water and carbon dioxide to form hydrogen ions and bicarbonate ions.


· Horses need a minimum of 1 oz of salt daily, more in hot weather or when in hard work

· Even if you supplement electrolytes, be sure the horse consumes salt

· Make up for electrolyte losses during and after exercise

Deciphering Electrolyte Labels

To make sure you are buying primarily an electrolyte supplement, not a lot of fillers, look for the amount of chloride to be 45-50%. This amounts to 12.78 to 14.2 grams of chloride per ounce. If significantly below this, it’s diluted. Look for sodium around 6 grams, potassium 4.8 grams. If the label lists a percentage as salt, look for 75 to 83% salt.

  • If the label lists ingredients as their sales, e.g., Potassium chloride, sodium chloride, look for one that has 2.5 to three times more sodium chloride than potassium chloride.

  • Look for sodium to be somewhat more than half the level of chloride.

  • If sodium and potassium are listed separately, potassium should be 80% of the sodium level, e.g., if 5 grams sodium, you want 4 grams potassium.

  • Don’t be swayed by flavorings. Horses have a natural taste for salt. All the flavored products still basically taste like salt (unless heavily diluted with sugar or other fillers) regardless of what they smell like.

  • When comparing products that list their ingredients differently – by percentages versus grams and mg – some easy math to remember is that a level of 10% in a 1-ounce serving = 2.8 grams. 10% in a 2-ounce serving in = 5.6 grams, etc.

Checking for Dehydration

There are two simple tests you can do to check how well hydrated your horse is. One is called the “pinch test.” Pull up a fold of skin on your horse’s neck and tent it away from the body. If the horse is well hydrated, it will immediately snap back into place. If the skin is slow to return to its normal position, the horse is somewhat dehydrated. The longer it takes, the worse the dehydration. In older horses, loss of normal skin elasticity can make this test unreliable when done on the neck. In an older horse, you should tent the skin at the point of the shoulder instead.

The other test is to lift the horse’s upper lip and press your thumb on the gums over the teeth with enough pressure to make them blanch to white. This compresses the blood vessels. In a horse with normal hydration, the color will return in less than two seconds. Any longer than this means the horse is dehydrated. With severe dehydration, the gums will also feel dry and tacky rather than moist and slippery.

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