PREVEN­TION

When sand ac­cu­mu­lates in a horse’s in­testines, se­ri­ous di­ges­tive up­set can re­sult.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Lau­rie Bon­ner with Melinda Freck­le­ton, DVM

Sand colic: When sand ac­cu­mu­lates in a horse’s in­testines, se­ri­ous di­ges­tive up­set can re­sult.

Horses who graze on loose, sandy soil are at risk of sand colic, which can oc­cur if they in­gest too much dirt with their for­age. The con­se­quences can range from very mild, tran­sient di­ges­tive up­sets, when the par­ti­cles ir­ri­tate the gut wall, to im­pactions or twists (volvu­lus), which can oc­cur if large amounts of sand set­tle out of the in­gesta and ac­cu­mu­late in the large in­tes­tine.

One sim­ple test you can do to de­ter­mine if your horse is in­gest­ing sand with his for­age is the “fe­cal sand test.” Take six to eight ma­nure balls from the mid­dle of a fresh pile (to make sure it’s not con­tam­i­nated with sand from the ground) and place them in a plas­tic bag, jar or bucket of wa­ter. Shake or stir to break up the balls, and let the mix­ture sit for about 15 min­utes. If more than a tea­spoon of sand has set­tled on the bot­tom, your horse is prob­a­bly con­sum­ing dan­ger­ous amounts. But be aware that the ab­sence of sand does not mean your horse is not in dan­ger: If the sand has set­tled down in his gut, it may sim­ply not be mov­ing out with the ma­nure. In one 2012 survey of 62 horses re­ferred to univer­sity hos­pi­tals for sand colic, only 48 per­cent had sig­nif­i­cant amounts of sand in their ma­nure.

Short of ex­ploratory surgery, ra­dio­graphs are the best way to de­tect large ac­cu­mu­la­tions of sand in a horse’s gut. Rec­tal exams may be in­ef­fec­tive be­cause the sand of­ten set­tles too low in the ab­domen for the vet­eri­nar­ian to reach. Pe­ri­odic ra­dio­graphs may be a good idea for horses who are es­pe­cially at risk for sand colic.

But a bet­ter strat­egy is to take steps to pre­vent horses from in­gest­ing and ac­cu­mu­lat­ing too much sand in the first place. Here’s what to do:

1. Don’t place hay or feed di­rectly on the ground. A head­down grazing po­si­tion may be best for a horse’s res­pi­ra­tory health, but you don’t want him pick­ing up dirt with his feed, ei­ther. Buck­ets, tubs and a va­ri­ety of com­mer­cial or home­made feed­ers can keep hay and grain off of the dirt. Also be care­ful of spilled hay and feed. Pour­ing a con­crete pad or lay­ing down rub­ber mats un­der feed­ers can help keep even dropped feed clean. Keep in mind that a horse can in­gest sand when fed in a rid­ing ring or some dry lots, too.

2. Keep your pas­tures healthy. Horses turned out on pas­tures with sandy soils are also prone to pick­ing up grit as they graze. The risk is greater when the grasses are cropped too short---the horses are more likely to con­sume the plants roots and all. If your pas­ture is thin or over­grazed, con­sult a lo­cal ex­ten­sion agent for ad­vice on how to help it re­cover. For ex­am­ple, ro­ta­tional grazing---mov­ing horses among dif­fer­ent turnout ar­eas to give the grass time to re­cover---can help keep pas­tures healthy. Of­fer­ing sup­ple­men­tal hay can also re­duce pres­sure on the grazing.

3. Feed am­ple for­age. A hay- and grass-based diet is health­i­est for a horse for many rea­sons, one of which is that a steady sup­ply of roughage mov­ing through the in­tes­tine helps push any in­gested sand out with the ma­nure be­fore it can set­tle. Al­low­ing free-choice hay helps keep things mov­ing around the clock. A slow feeder or hay net can re­duce waste and make a hay or feed ra­tion last longer.

4. Add psyl­lium to your horse’s ra­tion. Psyl­lium is a high-fiber di­etary lax­a­tive made from the husk of seeds from a shrub-like herb called Plan­tago ovata. It is the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent in Me­ta­mu­cil and other hu­man lax­a­tives, as well as a num­ber of prod­ucts for­mu­lated for horses. When psyl­lium is mixed with wa­ter, each par­ti­cle swells with a gel-like coat­ing. It is be­lieved that the psyl­lium gel sticks to the sand par­ti­cles as it moves through the in­tes­tine, trap­ping them and help­ing to carry them out with the ma­nure. One 2008 study did show that psyl­lium mixed with min­eral oil re­moved sig­nif­i­cantly more sand from a horse’s gut than did min­eral oil alone. Data from other stud­ies has been less con­clu­sive, but one thing is clear: Psyl­lium alone won’t avert a se­ri­ous colic if a horse has al­ready ac­cu­mu­lated a large amount of sand. That said, how­ever, rou­tine use of psyl­lium may help to pre­vent any in­gested sand from build­ing up to dan­ger­ous lev­els. If you choose to add psyl­lium to your horse’s reg­i­men, read the la­bel care­fully and follow the dosage di­rec­tions. It’s im­por­tant to feed psyl­lium only pe­ri­od­i­cally when the goal is to move sand---if fed daily over a long pe­riod of time, the horse’s gut will adapt to di­gest the psyl­lium in a way that makes it in­ef­fec­tive for that pur­pose.

5. En­cour­age your horse to drink lots of wa­ter. We all know that our horses need ac­cess to am­ple amounts of fresh, clean wa­ter at all times. But good hy­dra­tion, along with a for­age-based diet, also helps keep the in­testi­nal con­tents mov­ing. When the in­gesta loses mois­ture and slows down, the sand can set­tle out more read­ily.

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