Salt stone: Salt stone for horses, are they necessary?
Thinking about the salt stone for your horse is like removing the leaves of a daisy: should I put it on it? Should I not put it on it?…
You will have heard a thousand and one reasons, for and against, each so unconvincing that what happens is that for seasons you put it on and other times, you don’t, without any criteria.
In bestfriendequine.com Blog, we will talk about salt stones, minerals and electrolytes so that you know how to act at all times.
Do horses eat salt stone licks because they like it or need it?
First, we must know that there are many types of stones or blocks of salt. All of them are blocks of minerals that are transformed into electrolytes as soon as the horse ingests them and dissolves them.
The pure salt is sodium chloride. It will provide sodium and chlorine electrolytes, necessary for many horse physiology functions. If the salt block only contains sodium chloride, it will be a pure salt stone.
In addition to what we know as common salt, Salt stone can contain other minerals such as zinc, iron, manganese, copper, iodine and cobalt. So we can call them blocks of mineralized salt.
The horse will take as much mineralized stone as possible to meet its sodium needs.
Suppose the horse needs a lot of sodium. In that case, it may be that, by consuming a lot of mineralized stone, it consumes an excess of other minerals, especially iron, which is already high in animals with access to pasture. This is rare but may be the source of the controversy that salt licks are bad for horses.
The bad thing is not the salt stone; you consume it too much for some unknown cause. It would help if you discovered that cause. As soon as you solve it, the consumption of the blocks will normalize and be healthy.
When is it toxic, or when is there excess salt?
Excess sodium in the blood is called hypernatremia, and reaching toxic levels is very rare.
It happens when the animal only has access to drink seawater; or when more than 2% of salt is supplied in the diet without sufficient water intake.
A horse that spends a long time in the box can lick and even bite the stone out of boredom and thus ingest too much salt.
If he has access to enough water, he will drink a lot to compensate, and therefore he will also urinate large amounts. This will rid you of intoxication.
But, if the water supply is done with buckets instead of an automatic drinker, one bucket may not be enough, and you may become intoxicated.
If the horse eats the salt stone in excess due to boredom, you should introduce changes in stable management such as more outings, more forage, and placing the salt stone only for a few hours throughout the day while not the problem is solved.
It is common for the horse that licks the salt stone too much to have dry skin on the lips and even raised portions of skin like small skins.
Some salt stones have flavorings that please the horse too much and cause it to consume in excess. Choose stones without these additives so as not to force their consumption.
When are there salt and mineral deficiencies?
They happen for short periods, as is the case of a competition, and are usually caused by eliminating a large amount of sweat that drags these minerals.
Chronic mineral deficiencies due to low intake
They happen when the horse receives insufficient supplies of minerals for a prolonged period. With these deficiencies, the abnormal behaviors of licking surfaces, eating dirt, branches, bark or wooden fences can appear. This is not to be confused with the stable vice called wood biting.
The animal licks surfaces are not always caused by mineral deficiency, so you should consult your veterinarian if it happens.
The usual fodder and feed for horses have low levels of sodium chloride, which is why supplementation with salt blocks is recommended.
The horse will (instinctively) take the salt it needs if it is healthy, stress-free, well-fed and moderately exercised.
Neither salt for salting nor salt is valid so that ice does not form on the roads.
It was observed that horses with moderate exercises and in mild temperatures subjected to diets with different salt concentrations maintained a good state of health. All this is believed to be due to the horse’s ability to adapt to the amounts of salt in the diet by increasing or decreasing salt excretion thanks to the kidney and the intestine.
In case of excess salt, the horse drinks more, and the kidney excretes more chlorine and sodium accompanied by water. Therefore the horse urinates much more.
In the case of scarcity, excretion by the kidney and intestine decreases.
As you can see, chronic deficiencies are easy to compensate for with a simple salt block.
The problem arises when the horse has many sweat losses due to exercise or heat, which cannot compensate thanks to the kidney and the intestine or to the salt stone itself. It is convenient to use electrolyte supplements in the meal or electrolytes directly into the mouth through syringes.
If a horse sweats little, access to plenty of hay and water, its balanced diet, and the availability of a salt block will suffice.
If the horse has sweated profusely, it will need plenty of fresh, clean water and electrolyte supplementation.
Why is it not good to give electrolytes if the horse does not drink?
When a horse becomes dehydrated because it sweated profusely, it loses internal fluids and the sodium concentration in the blood increases. The body reacts very quickly to this rise in sodium, making the horse thirsty. Drink, and the levels return to normal.
But what happens if the horse does not drink enough due to the stress of competition?
Since we see that he is dehydrated, we force-feed him electrolytes with syringes with good intentions. These, through the digestive tract, will quickly pass into the blood, and there they will increase the concentration of sodium, which, as we said, will increase thirst. But what if I continued without drinking? Well, we are dehydrating the horse even more.
The correct order is to drink first and electrolytes second.
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