Morgan Murphy

The Pros and Cons of Giving Horses Salt Licks

Most horses, unlike humans, are great at regulating their salt intake based on genuine need, as opposed to our need to munch salty foods as a source of comfort and entertainment. However, there are a few horses who really like the taste and will over consume just because they can. In most cases, this isn't a problem as long as the horse has plenty of access to fresh water and does not have kidney problems. Drinking helps to flush the excess chloride and sodium from the horse's system. However, if your horse appears to be overly indulgent, consider removing the salt block from their stall and instead, adding salt to their feed.

Your horse needs a certain amount of salt in his diet to keep him healthy*

The average horse requires approximately fifty grams of salt, daily. If you're using commercial feed concentrates, there is most likely some salt already added in, usually about 0.1% . You might want to add another tablespoon or two (15-30 grams,) as needed, depending on your horse's nutritional requirements, i.e., weight, exercise levels, climate considerations and season of the year.

The type of salt you select should again, be dictated by the horse's specific needs and what supplementation he's already getting. Table salt is suitable if the horse only requires sodium and chloride. Some horses are better served by iodized salt. If your horse is not being fed supplements, you may wish to consider a trace mineral salt.

How Salt Helps Keep Your Horse Healthy.

Salt helps facilitate the movement of nerve impulses through the body's cells. It also helps to transport specific substances across the cell membrane including glucose and amino acids. As one of the major electrolytes, salt plays an important role in regulating the acid balance within cells as well as maintaining cell hydration, also known as osmotic regulation.

The higher the salt concentration, the more water will be drawn to the area. We ladies have to worry that excessive salt intake will result in water retention, right? Well, the horse's system regulates salt levels in the digestive system, kidneys and cellular fluid to help keep water levels properly balanced.

While most horse people keep salt blocks in their horses stalls, there is actually some debate about the wisdom of this custom. Apparently salt blocks were originally designed for use with cattle, who are blessed with extremely rough tongues. Cattle have no problem getting their salt requirements met with a salt lick, however, horses have much softer tongues, and sometimes end up with sore tongues and insufficient salt intake. Approximately 4 out of 6 regularly exercised horses get inadequate amounts of salt from salt licks alone. The solution? Either add salt to your horse's feed or consider hanging a bucket in the stall or pasture shelter containing loose, free choice salt.

Recognizing the Signs of Sodium Deficiency.

Salt deficiency is fairly rare in horses when they're offered loose, free choice salt. Horses intuitively seek out salt replenishment as needed. Horses not getting sufficient salt may resort to licking items that have been recently been handled by a sweaty person, given the amount of naturally occurring salt found in sweat. Symptoms of salt deficiency include: decreased water intake, decreased skin vitality, slow eating and eventual loss of appetite. Severe salt deficiency may lead to problems with chewing, unsteady gait and difficulty with basic coordination.

Why Sodium Toxicity is so Rare?

Horses rarely succumb to salt toxicity or excess salt intake, as any excess sodium is typically excreted through the urine. However, if there are insufficient water supplies, it can become an issue. Maintaining your horse's access to fresh, drinkable water is key in proper horse health maintenance.

Salt is Just One of the Many Minerals Critical to Good Horse Health.

If you're responsible for your horse's diet, then you need to understand the overall roll of minerals in equine health. Minerals, which are inorganic molecules are, in essence, rocks. But, without trace amounts of these rocks, your horse could not metabolize the carbohydrates, proteins and fats required to keep their nerves and muscles functioning. A horse's skeleton could not support its own weight. Minerals aid the blood in transporting oxygen through the horse's body, maintaining the body's fluid balances, its acid base and working as building blocks for virtually every enzyme that horse's need for daily metabolic function. They are integral components of many amino acids, hormones and vitamins. Your horse's body is comprised of 60% water, 30-35% proteins, carbohydrates and fats and astoundingly, only 4% minerals.


Making matters all the more complicated is the fact that some minerals work in tandem, the presence of one mineral can directly impact the absorption and metabolic impact of another. Phosphorous and calcium are among the better known mineral partners; both are critical to repair and growth of healthy bones, but must be present in proper ratios to be effective. This is very important to horse health! Iron, zinc and copper, along with manganese and magnesium are also linked. Many developmental bone abnormalities in young horses are thought to be the consequence of improper balance of these 5 critical minerals. One final note, salt blocks are available both as pure salt, (white) or as colored blocks, which feature other minerals.

 *image courtesy of dollar photo club