Talking Sodium Chloride Salt Intakes & Electrolytes


Sodium is one of the main electrolytes found in the equine body and is crucial for fluid balance and hydration.  Sodium levels are key in influencing the horse’s drinking.  If sodium levels are low, the body will strive to keep from flushing away the sodium and signal the horse to avoid drinking.  Dehydration can then occur, which is why in this exceptionally hot summer, it is vitally important to provide enough sodium in your horse’s ration. Providing adequate amounts of sodium during times of need, such as during high performance, hot summers, or cold winter months, can stimulate the horse to drink more. 

The Importance of Sodium

When a horse sweats, it loses several minerals, namely, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.  Most well-balanced equine feed rations, such as feeds from the Chestnut Lifestyle Range will replenish calcium, magnesium, and potassium.  However, the mineral that is the most difficult for equines to obtain is sodium.  (An exception being hard-working performance type horses who are excessively sweating and may need supplementary potassium also).  

Sodium also works in conjunction with chloride to manage muscle and nerve functions, and reactions.  Inadequate sodium intake levels can also result in abnormal eating or licking habits, such as eating dirt, in an attempt to obtain the required nutrients.

Types of Salt

Sodium chloride comes in many different types and forms – plain white blocks, red trace mineral blocks, Himalayan salt licks, regular table salt, iodized salt, sea salt, etc.  The type of salt provided depends on the equine’s specific needs, the nutrient content of their overall ration and, of course, the horse’s taste preferences.

In simple terms, most of the plain white salt blocks and regular table salt solely contain sodium chloride.  This is the best way to supplement if your horse only requires sodium (and chloride).  Another option is to feed iodized table salt, which adds iodine to the sodium chloride; however, if choosing this option, it is important to check the iodine levels of the equine’s overall ration.

Red trace mineral blocks contain, as the name suggests, trace minerals (copper, zinc, manganese, cobalt, iron, and iodine) in addition to sodium chloride.  Trace minerals are an important part of the horse’s diet, but some forages and almost all concentrates contain these important trace minerals already.

Finally, there is the option of rock salt or Himalayan salt.  Himalayan salt is one of the purest salts available; it is not heavily processed like table salt, so it leaves the natural minerals intact.  It tends to be weather resistant (to a point), so is more suitable for pasture use.  Some horses prefer the taste of the Himalayan salt, so if your equine is reluctant to eat other types of salt, a Himalayan salt might be the best option.

How much to Supplement

As the per National Research Council (NRC) guidelines, a 500 kg horse at maintenance on a cool day needs the amount of sodium provided by approx. 28 g (approx..1.5 tablespoons) of sodium chloride.

Horses in moderate work need approx. 55 - 65 g of sodium chloride per day, whilst equines with heavy or performance workloads potentially require up to 200 g per day.

So, if the equine is not actively using a block or salt lick, the daily amount of salt needs to be added to their feed.

The Importance of Sodium for equines with clinical nutritional diseases

As sodium is the main electrolyte found in the blood and surrounding cells, if the equine’s sodium levels are low, the blood won’t hold suitable levels of water.  This can cause the adrenal gland to release the hormone aldosterone, which essentially alerts the kidneys to hold on to sodium and instead, release potassium, creating an imbalance in the body.  As such, inadequate sodium intake can aggravate conditions such as ‘anhydrosis’ (lack of or inadequate sweating), tying up / PPSM and a rapid heart rate.

A final word on Electrolytes

Electrolytes, including sodium, are the minerals that control blood volume, muscle and nerve function, plus maintain the body’s pH.  The main electrolytes are sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium.

Feeding electrolytes is advised when your equine is sweating more than usual, for example, in times of hard work, hot, humid weather or drinking less water (as during cold weather).  However, remember that electrolytes typically provide other nutrients and not just sodium alone. 

Here to help

If you have concerns about your horse's ration then get in touch, complete our online form and we will come back to you with dedicated advice for your horse.

If you are looking to increase your horses sodium intake or are interested in electrolytes we stock both Protexin Gut Lix and Equine America Applelytes and both can be delivered with your Bulk Bin of feed. Just get in touch to add to your order.