The Benefits of Salt

Feeding salt, or having it available to your horse is a part of good, and necessary horse-keeping. Horse salt licks should be available at all times, or loose salt must be fed or accessible. Of all the horse supplements for sale, the simple act of feeding salt has a great deal of benefits for horse health. For horses in warmer climates, the salt requirements are higher than for horses in colder climates. 

How Much Salt Do Horses Need? 

The amount of salt a horse needs is dependent on how much he or she sweats. Most horses will regulate the amount of salt they need on their own. According to the National Research Council, if 50 to 60 grams of supplemental salt is fed daily, this will meet the needs of most horses. Additional salt may be required for horses in intensive training, and for horses living in hot climates. Lactation and sweating will increase the individual’s need for salt. Horses that sweat heavily and frequently should have a source of supplementation for potassium (K), magnesium (Mg) and calcium (Ca) as well. 

What Does Salt Do In The Body Of A Horse? 

Sodium (Na), chloride (Cl), and NaCl (common salt) are essential elements in many cellular functions. Potassium (K) balances the salt levels; too much of it will result in a salt deficiency. Electrolytes may also be needed in warm weather, or when the horse is sweating excessively, to help keep hydration up. Sodium works in the cells during muscle contraction, as well as other nerve and cellular function, and to balance body fluids. Chloride is needed for both kidney function, and fluid and pH balance in the body. Potassium is interrelated to sodium function, as stated above, working in both nerves and muscles. It also helps fluid balance and cellular metabolism. As for magnesium, it is interrelated to both calcium and phosphorus in the development of bones and metabolism. Phosphorus balances it. Calcium and phosphorus work with Vitamin D to develop and strengthen bones. Calcium works in muscle contraction, metabolism, blood clotting, and bone growth.

When Horses Are Deficient In Salt, What Are the Signs? 

The first thing that may be noted is a loss of appetite and a rough hair coat. Reduced growth may also result. Horses that are lacking access to salt will lick a lot, and often show signs of dehydration. Testing hydration levels can be done with a simple pinch test on the skin of the neck. Properly hydrated skin should immediately snap back into place when pinched; if the skin that gathers slowly recedes back into place, it is likely that the horse is dehydrated. Another way of testing hydration and proper body function is by testing the capillary refill time on the gums. If you press your fingernail into the upper gums of a horse, above the front incisors, holding the upper lip up, there should be a red mark that immediately goes back to a normal looking gum. If the capillary refill time is slower than 2 or 3 seconds, this can indicate a problem in circulation. Horses lacking in sodium will not only show signs of an increasingly poor appetite, but they will start to perform poorly too. They have an increased risk of heat stress. Horses deficient in chloride will be dehydrated, and be “thick winded” from alkalosis of the blood - or a disrupted pH balance. They may also shows signs of increased nervousness and poor performance. Because the job of potassium is to balance sodium and salt levels, it is important to know the signs of potassium deficiency as well. Many of the symptoms are the same as deficiencies in either sodium or chloride - reduced appetite, poor growth, poor performance, and dehydration. A shortage of potassium can also result in an increase in the stiffness of the muscles and joints of working horses. 

What Is The Best Method For Feeding Salt? 

Most horse owners provide a salt lick or block of salt to their horses, either in their stall or in their turnout paddock. For horses prone to mild colics, where there might be impactions from not hydrating properly, some owners will add a small amount of loose salt to the horses’ daily ration as well. The idea behind feeding additional loose salt is to increase the amount of water consumption. This can prove helpful in cold climates where water consumption drops. Horses fed loose salt should have access to a unlimited amount of clean, fresh water at all times. Some owners will get salt blocks with trace minerals as well. Many horses do not readily lick at these. Ideally, they should be given both a mineral block and a salt block.

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