How Should Dehydration in Horses Be Treated?

horse in a field

Dehydration is when the body tissues lack sufficient water. The cause can be losing too much water or not getting enough of it. Horses need to drink 19 to 70 liters of water per day, so access to water sources must be continuous throughout the day.

Dehydration in horses is more dangerous than in most animals. Their need for water comes from their efficiency in dispersing heat through sweat. Horses can lose up to five percent of their body weight in fluids before displaying any symptoms.


Two major factors contribute to dehydration in horses: intake and loss of water. A horse may not drink enough water due to several reasons. The horse may fail to drink sufficient water due to stress from a disease.

They may also fail to drink enough water due to a lack of the precious commodity. Dehydration in horses can additionally occur when they sweat more than they drink. The same may also happen when they are under demanding physical exertion or during high temperatures.

Signs and Symptoms

Extreme dehydration in horses can have grave, life-threatening implications on their health. Symptoms of dehydration in horses may look similar to other diseases. For this reason, it is best to know what to look for.

Some horses go through depression and lethargy. Their change in mood is due to dehydration. Their performance starts to drop, which is fatigue due to insufficient liquids. Your horse’s urine will also be dark.


You must seek immediate medical attention at the first sign of dehydration in your horse. You can perform a skin test to check for dehydration. Do this by pinching a fold of skin on your horse’s shoulder or neck. The horse’s skin should pop back immediately once you release it. If it does not, something is wrong.

However, the skin test is not definitive. No test can definitively confirm dehydration. Instead, veterinary doctors refer to symptoms to confirm the diagnosis. They may perform blood tests to check for any underlying problems that have similar symptoms to dehydration.

Treating Dehydration in Horses

The first step in treating dehydration is encouraging your horse to drink fresh water. Next, try administering a solution of fluids and electrolytes. These are central in treating and stabilizing dehydrating horses. Seek the assistance of your veterinary specialist to administer the fluids. Any mistakes in the administration, such as giving too much, can result in your horse having psychological problems.

The veterinarian may attempt to administer the electrolytes through the mouth. If the situation is dire, they may need to administer the fluids intravenously. The choice in the method of administration depends on the temperament, attitude, and health of the horse. A healthy horse can last up to four days without water. After this, they find it hard to eat, resulting in rapid weight loss.


Once your horse is out of danger, schedule follow-up appointments according to the veterinarian’s direction. To avoid dehydration, always ensure that your horse has enough clean water. Give the animal enough water when exercising or when doing strenuous work. Keep an eye on your horse for symptoms of dehydration. Early detection of dehydration can save your horse’s life.

To treat your horse for dehydration, contact Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center at our office in Cave Creek, Arizona. You can call 480-595-8600 to book an appointment today.