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Do Horses Need Salt? Are Mineral or Sand Blocks a Good Source?

Nicole Cosgrove

Vet approved

	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

Vet, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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In the wild, horses are foragers, eating what they need throughout the day. Horses in captivity need to have their diets closely monitored to make sure that their daily diet meets the requirements to keep them healthy and maintain regular bodily functions. When determining the correct forage diet for a horse, a veterinarian should be consulted to help formulate a diet based on the horse’s medical history, metabolism, exercise routine, and general health.

Horses should be fed a minimum of twice a day forage-based diet, such as pasture or hay. Supplementation with grains can be given based on a horse’s individual needs. In addition to a proper diet, horses also need salt and other minerals to balance out their diet and to prevent serious illnesses. Salt and mineral blocks are good sources to assist horses in getting these vital nutrients. Read on to learn more about some of the vital nutrients horses need in their diet.divider-horse

Minerals for Horses

There are several minerals that horses need to maintain their bodily functions without getting sick and how much they need depends on their lifestyle. For example, sports horses need higher levels of minerals due to the amount of exercise and sweating they do, while horses that lead a more sedentary life will need lower amounts of the same minerals. A veterinarian can help determine what the exact needs are for each horse based on its lifestyle.

Running gallop black Friesian horse
Image Credit: Makarova Viktoria, Shutterstock

Here is a list of the major minerals that horses need to remain in peak health:

  • Salt: Salt requirements for equine animals are affected by sweat losses during exertion. Horses will seek out salt naturally to correct any imbalance, so salt should be available free-choice loose in container or as a salt block. If a veterinarian determines the horse needs more salt than it is getting, they may recommend oral dosing of salt and electrolytes or will recommend adding the minerals to the horse’s water.
  • Iodine: Iodine needs for horses are met through salt blocks, commercial feed, or foraging. Pregnant mares may need a higher iodine intake but should be monitored carefully to prevent the development of goiters. Most horses don’t need supplementation of Iodine in their diet.
  • Calcium and Phosphorus: Mature animals need less calcium and phosphorus than growing horses. Pregnant horses will need more calcium and phosphorus during the last third of pregnancy and the lactation phase. Aged horses shouldn’t be given excess calcium if they’re showing reduced renal function.
  • Magnesium: Most commercial feeds for horses contain an appropriate amount of magnesium for horses to prevent any deficiency. Magnesium deficiency is unlikely due to that reason. However, lactating or stressed horses may have a shortage of magnesium and need supplementation.
  • Potassium: Most horses get their potassium through roughage, which provides sufficient potassium. Lactating mares, working horses, and horses on diuretics need higher levels of potassium due to continued liquid losses. Additional supplementation is not needed if the horses are on a high-forage diet.
  • Iron: Adult horses, growing foals, lactating mares, and pregnant mares all need iron, but the need is met by commercial concentrates or forages. If the horse is experiencing blood loss or anemia, a veterinarian should be consulted to determine whether additional supplementation is needed.
  • Selenium: Selenium is essential but can cause toxicity in horses. Many regions don’t have enough selenium in the soil, so supplementation is needed. Too much selenium can cause serious health issues or even death, so any supplementation should be closely monitored.
divider-horse

Conclusion

Horses need minerals like salt, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and iodine, most of which are found in commercial feed and forage diets of hay or pasture. Horses seek out salt naturally, so always provide a free-choice salt lick. If there are concerns about iron or selenium deficiencies, a veterinarian should be consulted to determine if supplementation is needed.


Featured Image Credit: Groomee, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.