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Will flavoring a horse's water get him to drink more?

A study finds some that while flavors may be more enticing to horses than others, ultimately a plain-water option is what makes the difference in consumption rates.

A study suggests that when using flavor additives to induce a horse to drink more water, it’s wise to provide a plain water “chaser” at the same time.

A bay horse drinking from a green bucket.

Researchers conclude that the clinical benefit of providing flavored water to get horses to drink more is unclear and it’s important to ensure that horses have access to plain water,

In hospital settings the risk of colic makes dehydration a particular concern, so the voluntary water intake (VWI) of equine patients is closely monitored and flavoring is often added to water to encourage drinking. Washington State University researchers set out to identify which flavorings were most effective in enticing horses to increase their water intake.

For the study, 40 hospitalized horses were divided into four groups: In group one, each horse was given a bucket of plain water and a bucket of water to which a cup of sweet feed had been added; in group two, the horses received a bucket of plain water and a bucket of water suffused with two teaspoons of peppermint extract; in group three, the horses were given a bucket of plain water and one of water mixed with an ounce of an apple-flavored electrolyte product; in group four, which served as a control, horses received two buckets of plain water.

Every half-hour for 72 hours the water levels in each bucket were measured, and the amount of water consumed from each bucket was documented. The buckets were emptied, scrubbed, refilled and, where appropriate, re-flavored each day. Also, if a bucket’s fluid level dropped to less than half full during the monitoring period, it was topped off with water or the appropriately flavored water.

The collected data showed that, while the horses seemed to find some flavors more appealing, water intake for all groups was within the normal range, providing scant evidence that flavored water encourages horses to drink greater quantities. Specifically, horses given sweet-feed flavored water or peppermint-flavored water slightly increased their overall intake, but the researchers noted that horses presented with peppermint-infused water opted to consume plain rather than flavored water. Nor was there evidence of increased consumption of apple electrolyte-flavored water compared to plain water.

The researchers conclude that the clinical benefit of providing flavored water to get horses to drink more is unclear and it’s important to ensure that horses have access to plain water, even while also enticing them to drink with flavored water. If you would like to add a flavor to your horse’s water, they say, consider sweet feed or peppermint.

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