Water Consumption for Horses

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012 — No Comments Yet

The actual daily amount of water that most horses need to consume (at a minimum) to maintain body functions and remain properly hydrated is from a half gallon to a gallon per 100 pounds of body weight. This works out to be a minimum of 5-10 gallons for a 1,000-pound horse that is not presently doing any work and is living in a temperate climate. If you increase the horse’s workload or the environmental temperatures are elevated, then this will increase the demand for water. Lactating mares, horses with diarrhea, and horses with certain medical conditions will also require more water each day.

The horse’s water consumption from the available water source may decrease if the horse is on a lush, green pasture, as those grasses typically contain 60-80% moisture. Likewise, if the horse is maintained in a dry lot and fed a dry matter forage such as hay, which typically has a 12-15% moisture level, the horse’s time spent at the water trough will increase. The type of forage fed will also affect the horse’s water consumption based upon the feed’s protein content. Protein requires water during the digestive process, and as a result, feeds that are higher in protein will require the horse to consume more water. For example, a horse in a dry lot fed alfalfa hay (typically around 21% crude protein) will require more water in its daily diet than the same horse in a dry lot fed grass hay (typically around 9% crude protein).

Studies have also found that a horse’s consumption of water will be greatly affected by the temperature of the water. The consumption of water appears to be best with a temperature range from 45° to 65° F, with more consumption occurring at the warmer temperatures. This can be difficult to manage, especially in natural water sources such as creeks or ponds, when the weather drops below freezing. In fact, when the weather changes suddenly and temperatures drop precipitously, then even with fresh, palatable water available, many horses will reduce their water consumption drastically which can lead to problems such as impaction colic as the ingesta within the intestines loses its ability to progress normally without enough water. One way to combat this is to provide an ounce or two of a loose salt mix on the horse’s daily ration when weather changes are imminent (in addition to an available salt block) to ensure that the horse continues to consume water when the temperature does drop. Overfeeding of salt is not a problem if there is plenty of fresh water available.

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