Colic is a major fear of every horse owner, but did you know that colic can also result from a horse having ingested too much sand? Sand can accumulate in a horse’s gut and colon and can cause all sorts of issues, including serious colic episodes, diarrhea, and weight loss.
How It Happens
Horses can ingest sand in a number of ways. Small amounts of sand can cling to grass roots as a horse grazes in poor-quality pasture. If horses are fed from the ground in a sand field, they can swallow sand as they eat their hay. Even picking up fallen grain or hay wisps from the ground can lead to sand ingestion.
Sand is a problem because too much of it can irritate your horse’s digestive tract. Some of it passes out through your horse’s manure, though large amounts of sand can also sit in your horse’s colon and gut. If too much sand accumulates, it can cause a blockage in your horse’s digestive system. This can lead to serious colic episodes which require surgery to correct the condition.
How to Test Your Horse
You can examine your horse’s manure to test for the presence of sand. Wearing a glove, pick up six balls of your horse’s manure and place them in a clean, light-colored bucket. Be sure to pick up manure from the top of the pile, so that it has not been exposed to the ground. Fill the bucket up halfway with water, break up the manure, and mix it in with the water. Let the mixture sit for two minutes and then gently drain the top portion of the water off. Add more clean water and repeat the process. Let the mixture sit for ten minutes, then slowly pour out the water. Any sand present in the manure will have settled to the bottom of the bucket. This test can also be performed by using an empty mason jar or surgical glove – the sand will settle into the fingers of the glove.
In performing this test, the presence of more than half of a teaspoon of sand is cause for concern. But, even if you do not see any sand, your horse could still have an issue: sand might have settled into the bottom of his stomach, and it might not be moving through his system. Your veterinarian can test for sand by listening to your horse’s gut and by performing radiographs.
Preventing Sand Ingestion
If your horse has ingested sand, feeding him products containing psyllium can help to move it through your horse’s digestive system, but the best measure to take is to prevent your horse from ingesting sand in the first place. Maintain the quality of your pastures, and use sacrifice lots to keep your horses from overgrazing any one pasture.
If you feed your horse in dry or sandy lots, always use a feeder with a mat beneath it to catch any fallen food. Sweep the mat off on a daily basis. Consider feeding a psyllium product regularly to help move any ingested sand through your horse’s system, and test his manure regularly for the presence of sand.
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