About 60% of your horse is water—85% of his brain, 75% of muscles, even 30% of bone—and his health depends on his body’s ability to adapt to changes in environment and feed to keep those fluid levels balanced. Chances are, your horse is at least mildly dehydrated, which, if left unchecked, can lead to colic and serious health issues.
Simple ways to tell if your horse is dehydrated
Use these tips to check your horse for signs of dehydration. If you suspect he is, read another post to learn what you can do for a dehydrated horse.
Your horse’s resting heart probably averages 36-42 beats per minute. When your horse is resting, try to count his pulse for 60 seconds—if he’s restless, try 30 seconds and double the amount. (Try to avoid the common advice to check for 10 seconds and multiply by 6; the results will be less accurate.) A resting heart rate higher than 60 might indicate dehydration.
A dehydrated horse will take frequent, shallow breaths as his body tries to shuttle resources from one system to another. A typical breathing rate is between 8 and 12 breaths per minute.
Test the Gums
Check how long it takes the capillaries to refill by pressing gently on the gum near your horse’s upper teeth. The skin will turn pink or white as you press, but the color should return quickly when you release. If it takes longer than two seconds for the color to return, you’ve probably got a dehydrated horse.
Fold a section of skin on your animal’s lower chest. In hydrated horses, the skin springs back into place quite quickly; if the skin stays up like a ridge or returns slowly to its regular shape, you should take action.
Look to Soft Tissue
A horse’s eyes and gums should appear moist and shiny. If the gums are excessively red or the eyes seem dry, it’s a good indication that your horse is shuttling fluid to compensate to core activities to compensate for dehydration.
Dehydration is one of the most common issues your horse will deal with, and if left unchecked, it can do lasting damage. It’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of a dehydrated horse and act quickly to help your dehydrated horse return to his normal, healthy self.