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Watch for sand colic in horses this winterWatch for sand colic in horses this winter

When it comes to sand colic in horses, prevention is best.

September 22, 2016

3 Min Read
Watch for sand colic in horses this winter

If you don’t live in sandy country, you probably think your horse isn’t at risk for sand colic. Think again.

When a horse grazes on short, sparse pasture or is fed hay on the ground, he can ingest sand or dirt. And problems can develop when sand or dirt builds up in the intestines. Diarrhea, chronic weight loss and colic caused by irritation and obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract can occur as a result of sand retention. When large amounts of sand are present, routine treatment for sand colic may not be effective, and surgery may be necessary.

Sand colic may occur when horses ingest any type of earth, so you’ll want to be proactive. For starters, never feed hay on the ground or on any surface where dirt or sand may be present, including stall floors.

There are a number of “slow” feeders on the market designed so that the horse only pulls out a mouthful of hay at a time. Using this type of feeder will greatly limit the amount of hay that falls on the ground. If your horse has a knack for spilling his grain, look for a feed tub with a rim that helps prevent this.

As an additional precaution, you may want to place a rubber mat under the hay feeder and grain bucket or feed tub. Sweep the mat before each feeding to remove any stray dirt or sand the horse might have tracked onto it.

Studies have shown that daily turnout on fresh, green grass helps horses clear accumulated sand. Exercise is also credited with helping remove sand from the gut.

Along with feeding practices to reduce sand or dirt ingestion, grass turnout and regular exercise, many horsemen use psyllium-based products in an effort to clear accumulated sand out of the horse’s intestines.

These products are made from plants in the genus Plantago, including P. ovata and P. psyllium. Psyllium seed husks are able to absorb large amounts of water. Once psyllium enters the digestive tract, it can increase in volume as much as five times or greater. The resulting gelatinous substance helps support intestinal regularity to help move accumulated sand out with the stool.


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Used as a supplemental source, a psyllium-based product is typically given daily for one week out of every month.

You shouldn’t dampen your horse’s feed or grain ration when adding a psyllium supplement because this will make the product sticky and gooey, and your horse may turn his nose up at it. The idea is for the psyllium to become sticky and gooey after it’s in the digestive system so it can do its job.

Always make sure your horse has access 24/7 to clean, fresh water. Water is crucial to your horse’s health year-round, whatever the weather conditions, and it’s especially important when feeding a psyllium-based product.

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