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Is Water Softener Salt Ok for Horses?


Is water softener block salt okay for horses. I bought some and it contains brine, and they told me it was okay. – CM, Illinois

Dear CM,
This was an interesting question that, quite truthfully, I had never thought about and couldn’t answer without some research. In general, you have to be very careful about any kind of “block” that you offer to horses, as they may contain other ingredients that can be harmful to horses. For example, horses are very susceptible to a common ingredient in livestock blocks called monensin, or Rumensin. It’s a growth-promoting agent in cattle that works in the rumen (which horses don’t have) and so is toxic to them. There are also really high protein livestock blocks, deer licks, and sweetened or flavored horse blocks, all of which I recommend you avoid.

To get back to water softener blocks, here’s what the Cargill website said:

“As with food considerations, water softening salts are not intended for human or animal feeding. The particle size is inappropriate for small animals. In addition, water softening salt may have additives that are inappropriate for animal feed.”

One of these additives is sodium hexametaphosphate, a surfactant, not something you want your horse eating. In addition, there are at least three different kinds of salt that can be used to soften water. One of them, rock salt, is only 95% sodium chloride. The remaining 5% is made up of “insoluble matter,” whatever that is. Finally, some water softeners are made of with potassium, not sodium, which could be deadly to a horse with HYPP (hyperkalemic periodic paralysis).

For these reasons, I recommend you stick with salt and trace mineralized salt that is specifically designed for use in horses and stay away from water softener salt, deicing salt, and blocks for other species. In fact, you may want to stay away from blocks altogether. Research has shown that horses may not be able to get all the salt and other minerals they need from a block–especially if they are sweating a lot from hard work or high temperatures–because blocks were made for the rougher tongues of cattle. I suggest you give your horse a smoother block specifically made for horses or provide loose salt.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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12 comments on “Is Water Softener Salt Ok for Horses?
  1. Gabby says:

    What about using salt that is used in curing meats? The local farm store tells me it is safe for horses since humans safely consume the salt via the salted meats. Ingredients label states: salt, yellow prussiate of soda.
    Thank you.

  2. Sheila says:

    How about if you use water softener in the water supply for your horse can that have any negative effect on your horse?


    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Sheila, thanks for your question. Water is usually softened by adding a form of sodium which neutralizes other minerals such as calcium and magnesium. We will often do this to help protect things like pipes and machinery from hard water build-up. The result is water that may have a slightly higher percentage of sodium, and a slightly lower percentage of other minerals compared to water that has not been softened. We have heard of horses that drink from softened water sources, and seem to do just fine.  – SmartPaker Casey

  3. Beth says:

    I’m with Sheila, is it safe for them to drink softened water? We have misters for the extreme heat here in AZ & are planning to add a water softener to prevent their clogging so much, but that also comes from the same water supply that the horses drink…

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Beth, thanks for your question. Water is usually softened by adding a form of sodium which neutralizes other minerals such as calcium and magnesium. We will often do this to help protect things like pipes and machinery from hard water build-up. The result is water that may have a slightly higher percentage of sodium, and a slightly lower percentage of other minerals compared to water that has not been softened. We have heard of horses that drink from softened water sources, and seem to do just fine. – SmartPaker Casey

  4. Dona says:

    Thank you for this vey informative article. I clearly understand to only give my horse salt blocks designed for horses. My question is if your well water is hard– hard to the point the water is leaving a rust colored tint to your laundry– is this hard water safe for the horses to consume? Currently we do not live with that type of water conditions, but years ago we did. We brought in bottled water for the humans, We didn’t have horses at the time, but it was a quality care question I pontificated,

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Interesting question, Dona! Our best recommendation would be to work with your horse’s veterinarian to determine what is best for the horses in this type of situation. A local vet will have a better understanding of the mineral content of both the water, hay and grass in your specific geographic area, enabling them to give you a complete and nutritionally sound recommendation for your horses. – SmartPaker Sarah

  5. as a water softener dealer, dealing with salt for water softeners etc. daily…. I would say that it is not necessarily “harmful” for horses. If you think about it, the salt in a water softener replaces the harmful ions in water with salt, which then is in the water supply anyway.

  6. Corrie says:

    My question is, what would the risks be of a horse licking up water softener salt from the ground? After these longs winters that seem to never end we like to get a head start on mother nature and use the salt to help get rid of the last bit of snow and ice in the arena. In my case I also use my riding area as a turnout. I am eager to eliminate the ice but concerned about them possibly licking it if any harm can come, esp pregnant mares?

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Corrie, thanks for your question. If you plan to use your riding arena for turnout, it may not be the most appropriate to add salt into the sand because of the impact this could have on your horses hooves, as well as skin and hair if they tend to roll. I would suggest you show the label of the salt product if you have in mind to your veterinarian to help determine if this would be an appropriate use of the product or not. Especially where you are managing a pregnant mare, it’s important that your veterinarian is in the loop and helping you make any adjustments in her care, as well as the rest of your herd. – Dr. Lydia Gray

  7. Anne Hunter says:

    I have used Water softener salt in the past to melt the ice in front of the barn, thinking, since I use it in my softener it would not harm the horses if they eat it. Am I wrong? It isn’t there only source of salt in the winter, but is on the ground, accessible to the horses.

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