This time of year when we have brought the horses in from winter pasture and they are enjoying full service pen life, we give them a taste of alfalfa every day. I think of it more as a top-dressing on their native grass hay.
I feed each horse 1 pound of high quality alfalfa per day. I figure that’s like giving them a tonic, a vitamin pill, some extra protein and calcium without inviting problems.
Here’s a question I got from a reader that you might find interesting.
I have an ex-reiner now roping horse, he gets bored very easily. He is constantly playing in his water (even when I work him EVERY DAY). He plays in his water and pees constantly. I do not have a pasture to put him in but I can transfer him from my arena to stall daily. He is always ruining his stall by peeing and making it a lake…what is the best bedding that lasts the longest and stays dry for a continuous pee’er?? ANY info would be appreciated…
As always, it is good to get your veterinarian involved in such a conversation since frequent urination is a symptom of some serious health concerns. However, I’ll try to head you in the right direction with the information you provided.
First of all, a bored horse playing in his water won’t necessarily urinate excessively. It is a horse that drinks excessively that urinates excessively. So we need to figure out why he is drinking so much.
Frequent urination in horses can be caused by many factors. Here are a few:
- A sign of a mare being in heat. But since you say “he”, then this is not the reason.
- A horse that has colic. But since this is a continuous symptom, it is unlikely to be colic every day !
- A reaction to a pasture plant or weed. There are so many that could cause a horse to drink more water than normal to rid his body of toxins or other chemical compounds. I don’t have any details about your pasture but this is one area that is suspect.
- A symptom of Cushing’s Disease or kidney or liver problems, most often in older horses. You do say this is an ex-reiner, which may mean he is older so this could also be a possibility.
- A glucose intolerance in an older horses who after eating have increased thirst and urination. Again, if he is a senior horse, this could be an explanation.
- A symptom of blister beetle poisoning. Horses that ingest blister beetles in their alfalfa hay and suffer toxicity show behavioral signs of repeated splashing of the muzzle in water and frequent urination, among other symptoms. However, since you say your horse does this all the time, it is unlikely that this is the cause, but for sake of completeness, I wanted to include it. But it does lead me to the final item which is most likely the culprit.
- A symptom of a horse that is fed alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is very high protein feed, up to 20% protein. An adult horse does not require that much protein. And in order to convert protein into an energy fuel, a horse’s digestive system has to work hard and as a result his metabolic rate and temperature rise. That means, in most cases, a loose, watery stool and a warm horse. Already I am getting thirsty.
Also, alfalfa is very high in calcium, too high to meet the ideal 2:1 Calcium:Phosphorus ratio unless you feed the horse a lot of grain (grain is high in phosphorus) to balance it out. But that would not be good.
Excess protein can lead to kidney problems and frequent urination to get rid of the excess protein in the diet. And excess calcium can lead to kidney stones.
And speaking of stones, enteroliths (intestinal stones) are directly linked to an alfalfa diet. I wonder if you live in one of these states which have a higher incidence of enteroliths and which are states where alfalfa is a common horse feed?
- New Mexico
- and others
Well, you can tell I am not a big fan of feeding horses alfalfa hay. Is that what you have been feeding your horse? If so, it could explain his abnormal thirst and frequent urination. If you change to a grass hay, his stall will probably no longer be a lake and you won’t have to search for that super absorbent bedding.
Best of luck,