Ask Horse Journal: 08/01

Potassium Levels
I have a 10-year-old Arabian gelding that I use for competitive rides and 50s. I would like to move up to 100s. I’ve had some problems with Bs or Cs on metabolic scores, with dehydration and even some muscle twitching. I had blood work done at a ride last year and it showed low potassium. I then put him on one ounce of a mixture of half plain salt and half potassium chloride in his feed every day (he hardly touches his block salt), and I paste this in on rides, 2 oz. at every rest stop, but it hasn’t helped. Do I need to give more or increase the potassium’

-L. Kelly

The reason it hasn’t helped is that the low potassium is a symptom, not the cause of your problems. The horse’s body is set up to maintain a certain concentration of sodium in his blood — a steady relationship between the amount of sodium and the amount of water. If he is not taking in a normal amount of sodium, his kidneys will excrete some water to bring the concentration back up to where it should be and may also substitute potassium or other positively charged ions for the sodium that would normally be excreted in the urine. The result is that body water goes down (dehyration) and blood potassium goes down, but the blood results for sodium look normal.

The only thing that can correct this is getting his sodium intake up to what it should be. The maintenance (no-work) daily sodium requirement of a 900-pound horse is about 18.5 grams/day, which would be about 1.5 ounces of plain white salt (sodium chloride), up to twice that if the weather is extremely hot. Since your salt mix is 50% plain salt and you are giving only 1 oz. a day, he is getting only one-third of the salt he requires for a normal hydration level. The potassium requirement is about 43 grams/day for maintenance, but he will get at least 70 grams a day from just 10 pounds of hay, enough in fact for up to two hours or so of work at a moderate level (e.g. strong trot).

In hot weather, if you mix 1.5 to 3 ounces of plain salt a day into his feed and give normal amounts of hay, you will be in good shape with electrolytes for most work done at home. For harder training days and for competitions, supplement with an electrolyte mix that specifically matches sweat losses, which means one with roughly equal amounts of sodium and potassium (a little higher on sodium is OK) and twice as much chloride as sodium (see June 2001 Feeding Analysis).


Tail Chewing
One day I found half my gelding’s tail chewed off. A couple of days later I came to the stable to find that part of his mane was chewed off. I don’t know if the yearling he’s out with did it or what, although earlier in the year a couple of horses from a neighboring paddock had their tails chewed off. I have tried to put his tail up and keep it up, but he is always losing the tail bags and he loses a lot of hair when I put his tail up.

-N. DeLeeuw

It’s probably the yearling, as babies like to play and chew. You can discourage the behavior by making your gelding’s tail taste bad. We would suggest you try McNasty from Eqyss (800/526-7469). This product is a non-toxic anti-chewing spray. It won’t burn the horse or irritate his skin.


Psyllium For Sand Colic
I purchased a horse from Calgary, Alberta, and had her shipped to south Florida. I noticed about four weeks after her arrival she began to have loose stools that streaked down her hind legs. Later, I noted more solid manure that was almost tan in color. I discovered they were pure sand. I called my vet and explained what I found. I told her the horse was eating and acting normally and didn’t seem to be in any distress. She suggested Banamine twice a day for two days while I monitor her.

I told her the horse wasn’t enthused about my top-quality timothy hay, so she suggested I switch to a timothy/alfalfa mix, which the mare should enjoy. She said it was important to get roughage into her system to absorb fluids and keep things moving. I asked her about using psyllium products, but she said there was no scientific evidence these products are effective. I know the mare has a sand problem, but do you think psyllium works’

-Michelle Westbury

The diarrhea, depressed appetite for what should be a palatable hay, and findings of obvious sand in the manure in a horse living in Florida don’t leave much room for speculation about a possible sand problem. To confirm this, you could go to the veterinary school for abdominal radiographs.

Psyllium has been proven scientifically to be effective in resolving sand-related abdominal problems, including sand-induced diarrhea. The sooner treatment starts, the better. Psyllium’s success depends in part on how long sand has been accumulating and how tightly compacted the collections are. We advise you to get moving with treatment before actual colic occurs.

It’s also important at the same time to limit ingestion of sand. Never feed the horse off the ground in sandy areas. Remember, too, that hay or grain that is placed off the ground will quite often end up there anyway in the course of the horse eating it. If the horse is turned out in an area with sand, consider using a muzzle that prevents any material from reaching the horse’s mouth (a grazing muzzle or wire mesh won’t work).


Beet Pulp Contradiction’
I love your publication and rely on it in more ways than I can list, but please respond to the fact that your June 2001 article entitled “Beet Pulp Delivers Solid One-Two Punch” states at least twice that beet pulp must be fed wet, but your August 1999 article “Cutting Through the Hype: Brans and Beet Pulp” states it doesn’t have to be soaked at all.

-Ann Cady Jenson

The recommendation for beet pulp to soak refers specifically to the tiny, pebble-sized beet pulp products that are becoming increasingly more common than the long shards of the past. However, even then it’s not absolutely necessary to soak the beet pulp to get the horse to eat, or to soak it because of any danger of it swelling inside the horse. It is strictly a mechanical consideration due to the small particle sizes.

In addition, several readers have asked how much beet pulp can they feed. While the volume of soaked beet pulp is impressive, most of that is water. Horses can and do eat pretty impressive amounts of soaked beet pulp at one sitting. If you’re planning to incorporate beet pulp, calculate the feed substitution rate by dry weight and by the energy density of the beet pulp compared to the grain you’re feeding.

For example, 1.5 pounds of beet pulp would replace one pound of corn. For one pound of oats, substitute 1.25 pounds of beet pulp. If you’re only feeding a handful or so of beet pulp, then the dietary ratio of calcium:phosphorus isn’t a big concern, but with larger amounts you must realize that beet pulp has much more calcium and less phosphorus than grains and you may need to do some balancing to get the recommended 2:1 ratio.


Synthetic Saddle Fit
I read your February 2001 article on synthetic saddles. I got a Fleetwood AP, 17” seat, regular tree. On both my 16-hand Thoroughbred and my 14.3-hand Arab, the cantle was much lower than the pommel. I can use either of my other saddles on these horses with no fit problems. Did you have this same problem’ If you did, did you just go ahead and ride with the saddle and hope that it would adjust’ I was considering a wide tree.

-Mary Casper

We found that the synthetic saddles did have a tendency to “perch” on the horse for the first few days of use but then would loosen up and conform much better. The Fleetwood does have a fairly narrow twist, however, and is not quite as flexible as the Fairfax, although the cutback pommel does help with withers fit. If your horses ar e fairly broad-backed, it might be wise to call the manufacturer and double check before you use the saddle.


Fly Scabs
My gray gelding gets raw, scabby patches on his face during fly season. We’ve tried cortisone, azium, zinc, antibiotic ointments, Listerine, fly-repellent creams and fly masks. Nothing seems to help. As soon as the flies start, he starts rubbing his face.

-Shelley Cogger
British Columbia

It sounds like your problem is as much a secondary infection as any direct fly irritation, quite possibly fungal. Try Tea Tree ADE ointment from Animal Legends (800/399-7387). We’ve found it works well for stubborn fungal infections on the face. Also be careful not to leave residual cleaning materials on your bridle or halter and to at least wash the horse’s face with copious amounts of water whenever he sweats significantly.


Switching From Bute To Herbals
Were any of the horses you tested the bute-alternative herbals on receiving long-term bute therapy prior to the herbal and, if so, how did you switch them from bute to the herbal product’ Is it safe to feed both bute and the herbal at the same time’

-Roberta Oberpriller

Several horses were on bute prior to trying the herbals, including some horses with gut problems from the bute. We don’t recommend using both bute and the herbal, as the herbal can be as potent as a drug. Although we don’t know of any specific interaction precautions, there is no point in burdening the liver with two substances to metabolize when you can avoid it. However, we didn’t use any waiting periods, switching the horse to the herbal the next day, instead of using the bute.


Busting An Old Weaning Myth
You’ll often hear that a mare’s food intake should be cut drastically at weaning to help dry up her milk. While it’s true that you can stop or significantly cut grain at this time, it’s because she doesn’t need the extra calories anymore, not because the feed will make her continue to produce milk.

Milk production is given a priority in a lactating horse. When you cut calories below those needed, the mare will lose weight and delay cycling before she starts to produce less milk. Simply cutting calories for a few days won’t have any effect. The major stimulant to milk production is stimulation of the udder. Avoid touching the udder and don’t strip out any milk.

Try to keep water intake at maintenance levels, usually 8 to 10 gallons, as fluid intake is directly linked to milk production. For a 1,000-pound mare kept in a stall the first few days, remove the salt block and add 1 oz. plain white salt to her feed tub. Double the salt and water allowances if it’s hot or she’s sweating a lot. Give her free-choice hay to maintain her needed calorie intake and help take her mind off the weaning.


West Nile Risks
Anything that negatively affects the immune system increases the risk of West Nile infection and/or that the infection will have serious consequences. These factors include advanced age, concurrent illness, recent vaccination, use of corticosteroids and even pregnancy, since high levels of progesterone found during pregnancy can put a damper on the immune response.

Cushing’s-disease horses with abnormal production of the natural corticosteroid, cortisol, are prone to infections, including WNV. A recent study in human WNV patients showed that diabetes/high blood sugar resulted in a greater than five-fold increase in the likelihood of severe complications or death. We’d take extra caution for horses with a history of carbohydrate intolerance and laminitis.


Hot Horses And Cold Water
Much confusion remains about the safety of cold water hosing or using cold drinking water when a horse is hot. Feared consequences run from chills or muscles spasms to colic, laminitis, shock or heart attack. Most of these are unwarranted.

Exercise in hot weather can lead to large elevations in body temperature, particularly in horses that are not in peak condition or not accustomed to working at high temperatures. High humidity makes it even worse, since the horse’s ability to evaporate sweat is compromised. Helping the horse cool down under these circumstances is important.

Hosing a horse allows him to lose body heat from the surface by transferring it to the water. How quickly and efficiently this occurs depends on the temperature difference between the water and air and the water and the body. If the water is warmer than the air temperature, you won’t accomplish much more than you would just by walking the horse.

Water should be cool enough to get the job done but not cold enough to cause the horse to startle excessively or tense his muscles. Unless you are drawing from a deep well, straight cold water from a tap is usually appropriate to use. Hose the legs, jugular grooves, head and chest first, progressing to the body. Scrape off the warmed water when you finish.

Common sense defines the temperature of drinking water. Excessively cold/iced water can produce some temporary stomach discomfort if taken in too quickly or in large quantities. However, the hot horse will be looking for a cool drink, not a warmed one, just as you would. Letting him drink cool water, in one-gallon quantities every few minutes as you walk him, will also assist him in getting his body temperature back down to normal efficiently.

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