Diarrhea: Deadly Or Just A Drag?

Equine enthusiasts are taught early in their foray into horse ownership that any type of abnormal hgorse stool is a concern—whether that means the horse has diarrhea or is not passing manure at all. Though no passing of manure is of great concern, diarrhea can be as well.

Changes in diet are the No. 1 cause of diarrhea; they can also be hardest to identify—and rectify. If a horse’s diarrhea is bad enough to call the vet, there are two main possibilities: that the horse has a chronic issue that will be very hard to find and treat or that the horse is very sick and could infect other horses in his barn or pasture.

Diarrhea occurs when the digestive tract is not working properly; in particular, when there is a disruption in the large intestine. The large intestine can absorb as much as 30 gallons of water a day; when it can’t absorb the water, it is excreted in manure.

Diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease—it can occur when a horse eats too many carbohydrates or when he has ingested too much sand. Diarrhea can be a symptom of something minor to life-threatening. But how to tell which is which? Questions to help decide if the horse’s health is at risk include:

  • Is he uncomfortable? If the horse is pawing or looking at his flanks and acting colicky, the situation may be serious.
  • Does the horse have a fever? This could indicate he has an infection, which is more serious.
  • How long has the horse had diarrhea? Acute-onset diarrhea is more concerning that a low-grade diarrhea that’s been present for months.
  • Has he been around another horse that has diarrhea? This increases his risk of infection.
  • Does lab work show a low white cell count or a decrease in proteins? These are concerning.

If the vet doesn’t feel that his condition is life threatening, she may suggest adjusting the horse’s diet. Many vets believe horses are susceptible to orchard grass hay and suggest eliminating it from the horse’s diet to see if the diarrhea clears up. Removing NSAIDs and antibiotics from a horse’s management can also help (if possible).

Proper parasite control is key, and investigating the use of prebiotics or probiotics won’t hurt. Additionally, protecting the tissue of the affiliated horse’s intestinal tract is also important: Using products designed sooth tissues, like those that contain smectite clay or bismuth subsalicylate, are worth investigating to try to get his diarrhea under control.

Read more at Horse & Rider.

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