Many farmers have a shelf of electrolyte powder for calves in their houses.
It’s perfect for giving to sick calves and cows on the farm to help replenish their electrolytes.
But if you don’t have any on hand, is Gatorade OK?
Gatorade is safe for cattle to drink and adds needed electrolytes to combat symptoms caused by illness or dehydration. However, it is better to have “Cow Gatorade,” or electrolyte drinks specifically formulated for cattle on hand in preparation for these scenarios.
Read on to learn why animals need electrolytes, when to feed electrolytes to your livestock, and how to administer them.
Benefits of Electrolytes for Cattle
Gatorade was formulated on October 2, 1965, to help hydrate the Gators football team at the University of Florida.
The new drink contained salts and sugars to increase how quickly the drink was absorbed.
The inclusion of electrolytes helped the athletes drinking it recover, and the drink catapulted to the major brand it is today.
Animal medicine has created something for cattle.
Electrolytes are necessary for all animals, including cattle.
These essential minerals help balance the pH level in the body, regulate the balance of fluids, keep organs functioning properly, and move nutrients into cells and wastes out of them.
The three main electrolytes are sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
Cattle’s bodies need the right balance of electrolytes to continue working properly.
These essential minerals are lost through exercise, sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea.
If too many electrolytes are lost through these avenues, the cattle will become dehydrated and potentially experience muscle cramps and spasms.
To guarantee your cattle are getting enough of these essential minerals, add electrolytes to their water supply or directly feed it to them.
Adding electrolytes through powder form or Gatorade helps with hydration and efficient feed digestion.
Electrolyte supplements are available at local feed stores for many species.
It’s better to use electrolytes formulated specifically for cattle since they have been thoroughly tested and vetted for use in cattle, but Gatorade works in a pinch.
What Cattle Benefit from Drinking Gatorade
The main culprit behind cattle dehydration is diarrhea.
The loss of water and electrolytes will lead to lethargy, muscle issues, and potentially death, especially if they aren’t getting an adequate water intake because they’re too sick to drink.
Watch for these animal behaviors to catch dehydration early.
In addition to these signs, other signs of dehydration include sunken eyes and skin tent or the loss of skin elasticity when pinched or lifted.
It is a good practice to regularly check their hydration status.
Sick cattle need energy and optimal nutrition to fight off infection or diseases, and this is a lot harder if they continue to lose water and electrolytes through their symptoms.
Calves with Scours
Diarrhea and loss of electrolytes are especially detrimental for young calves.
A calf is classified as having scours when they have a case of diarrhea requiring intervention for more than 24 hours.
Many viruses and bacteria can cause scours, namely E. coli and salmonella.
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, but viruses do not respond to them.
The sooner you intervene, the higher the likelihood of the calf’s recovery.
In addition to medication, calves have a higher chance of recovery if given extra oral fluids and electrolytes to combat dehydration.
Cattle Being Transported
Researchers at Penn State found animals being transported can lose weight from lack of food and fluid intake due to the stress of being transported.
They also found that electrolyte-fed animals decreased weight loss during transport.
This is especially helpful for cattle undergoing extended periods of travel time.
Mature cattle used to these events still experience stress during transport and being around crowds of unfamiliar people.
Calves vs. Adult Cattle
Calves and adult livestock require different electrolyte formulations.
This is because the blood of most calves with diarrhea will become acidic, while adult cattle will have either normal or alkaline blood.
Calves, therefore, require electrolyte formulas, including bicarbonate, acetate, or other alkaline agents, to raise the pH of the blood to a normal level.
Giving adult livestock these ingredients will raise their pH, while giving them electrolytes without alkaline agents leaves them susceptible to acidosis.
Check the ingredients list on your electrolyte powder before feeding it to your livestock.
How to Feed “Gatorade” to Your Cattle
As long as a calf is willing to drink, it is easy to administer electrolytes to your calves.
Follow the directions on the electrolyte packaging for the animal size, but the general rule is to combine it with warm water and feed 1 pound of mixture per 10 pounds of body weight per day.
The water temperature is important for it to dissolve properly.
Depending on the age of the calf and their usual feeding setup, use a bottle or pail to feed the calf three to four times throughout the day.
You don’t want to overload the calf with too much fluid, and they won’t drink it all at once anyway.
If you choose to use actual Gatorade, feed it at a rate of 1 quart per feeding.
Check the calf’s hydration status throughout the day.
For adult livestock who require immediate intervention, use a stomach pump to administer the electrolyte mixture.
Follow the package instructions to create the correct mixture of powder to warm water.
While cattle can safely drink Gatorade, it would require a large (and expensive) quantity to guarantee they get enough electrolytes.
A stomach pump can fill a cow’s stomach with gallons of water in minutes.
Before beginning this process, check the cattle for a distended abdomen.
Pumping oral fluids into an already full rumen will be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for the cow.
In severe cases, your animal veterinary clinic may administer intravenous fluids and electrolytes to speed the process.
Ingredients in Gatorade
Generally, Gatorade and other sports drinks contain carbohydrates, sugar, and minerals like sodium and potassium.
The carbohydrates increase water absorption, but there are roughly 34 grams in a 20-ounce serving of Gatorade, depending on the flavor.
The full ingredients in Gatorade are:
- citric acid
- Sodium citrate
- Monopotassium phosphate
- Gum arabic
- Glycerol ester of rosin
- Other added flavors
Ingredients in Electrolyte Powder
Electrolyte powder contains many of the same ingredients as Gatorade, which is unsurprising given the similar goals of each product.
Electrolyte powders also contain a high amount of sugar to increase water absorption.
The exact formula depends on the brand, but common ingredients are:
- Sodium chloride (salt)
- Potassium chloride
- Sodium acetate
- Sodium phosphate monobasic
- Dipotassium phosphate
- Calcium d-pantothenate
- Reconstituted solution osmolarity
Since cattle have different tastes than us, electrolyte powder does not come in fun flavors like Gatorade.
However, the sweetness from the sugar increases the animal preference for electrolyte powder over water.
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