Prevent dehydration, muscle fatigue, tying-up and other symptoms of electrolyte deficiencies
In 1965, the University of Florida developed a unique beverage that improved its football team?s ability to recover after training and games. Thanks to Gatorade, most people have now heard of the term electrolyte.
But what is an electrolyte? Is it a salt? A mineral? A protein?
The answer is yes, all of these substances can be electrolytes. Dorland?s Medical Dictionary defines electrolytes as a substance that dissociates into ions when fused or in solution, thus becoming capable of conducting electricity. Simply, electrolytes are substances, such as table salt, that break apart into separate ions when they are dissolved in water, which then conducts electricity (positive and negative charges) capable of controlling body fluids, to maintain proper hydration.
In the horse, electrolytes play a critical role in controlling and maintaining osmotic pressure, muscle activity, nerve conduction and fluid balance. Without them, life could not be supported.
Sodium, Potassium, Chloride, Bicarbonate, Calcium, Phosphorus and Magnesium are the primary electrolytes. Cellular proteins and even trace minerals such as zinc and copper can also be electrolytes. The primary source of these electrolytes is the horse?s diet. However, if the horse?s diet is deficient, if he lives in a hot/humid environment, or participates in high levels of activity resulting in large volumes of sweat loss, it may be wise to consider supplementing with additional electrolytes.
Horses who do not live in hot/humid climates and do not often lose large amounts of sweat due to physical activity probably will not require supplemental electrolytes, except for sodium chloride. In fact, it is often counterproductive and potentially damaging to the health of the horse to provide electrolyte supplements continuously when their bodies do not need it.
SODIUM CHLORIDE IS MOST IMPORTANT
Yes, plain table salt is the most important electrolyte to feed your horse. Equine diets rarely provide adequate levels of sodium or chloride needed to properly balance the horse?s body. Potassium, on the other hand, is usually more than amply supplied by the normal equine diet. Only during periods of heavy fluid loss is it recommended to supplement additional potassium. Salt, however, should be consumed by the horse at the rate of approximately 1 oz daily to stay optimally balanced. Sodium is critical in controlling body fluid. If sodium is lacking in the horse, it can lead to the common effect of dehydration. (Note: It should be commented however, excessive salt intake can also cause dehydration). Horses instinctively crave salt. They will often seek out salt and eat it over any other mineral. It is always recommended that you offer your horse free choice white salt and it is important to monitor his daily intake to make certain that adequate levels are being consumed.
WHICH HORSES NEED ELECTROLYTE SUPPLEMENTS?
Performance horses, horses on diuretic medications, horses living in hot/humid weather, and horses experiencing diarrhea often need well balanced electrolyte supplements to maintain proper fluid balance and prevent dehydration. Studies now show that some incidences of rhabdomylysis (aka Muscle Tie Up) are the result of imbalances and deficiencies of particular electrolytes in the body. It is not usually required to provide electrolyte supplements to other classes of horses. However, all horses may benefit from the use of a specific osmolyte derived from beets, known as betaine, which can dramatically improve electrolyte and cellular fluid balance.
Electrolytes are certainly one of the most imperative supplements a horse owner can provide during times of fluid loss.
Signs and symptoms include:
- muscle tie up
- muscle fatigue
- lethargy or listlessness
- decreased performance
The use of betaine (TMG) can have a favorable effect on the electrolyte and fluid balance in your horse?s cells. Electrolyte and fluid balance is an important yet extremely simple element of your horse?s nutritional requirements that will promote optimal health for the life of your faithful equine friend.
Mike Uckele is the current President/CEO of Uckele Health & Nutrition, Inc. He earned his bachelors degree from Michigan State University and is also a Certified Nutritionist (CN) with extensive experience in the human and animal nutrition industry. Visit www.uckele.com