Routine Drenching (Prevention of Sand Colic)
Our clinic strongly recommends routine drenching for treatment of sand in horses that graze regularly on sandy pastures. Having serviced the areas of Wanneroo, Gnangara, Muchea, Bullsbrook & the Swan Valley for over 30 years, we have extensive experience in horses with sand colic.
At our clinic, we find that we have a major spike in the numbers of horses coming down with sand colic during these times
* In the middle of summer as pastures are drying up and horses are fossicking more in the sand for grass shoots.
* At the start of winter as the first rains start and new shoots come up.
Horses either ingest the sand through grazing directly on the sandy soils (foraging for food, or eating their supplied food off the ground), or as they are picking out grass that is poorly rooted.
Try imagining lifting a wet bag of cement – how heavy is it?
This is the equivalent of what the large intestine in most cases has to shift. Imagine what kind of discomfort there is in carrying such an extra load, especially when it is bouncing up and down in the abdomen while a horse is in work? It is no surprise therefore that severe sand burdens can lead to reduced blood perfusion to the intestines, severe colic and in the worst case intestinal rupture.
The sand has a tendency to accumulate over a period in a large structure that lies on the bottom of the abdomen called the caecum (the equivalent of our appendix). This structure is a blind ending sack, up to 1m long, and is a part of the large intestine.
How do I know if my horse has sand? (Symptoms & Diagnosis)
Symptoms of sand colic may be highly variable, from low grade (dull hair coat despite adequate diet, regular worming & dental care) to overt colicky symptoms (laying down, looking at abdomen, digging, rolling). Sandy horses also frequently exhibit diarrhea or a liquid follow through following normal manures.
A simple way to evaluate for sand coming out of your horse is by putting the faeces into a plastic bag with water, breaking the faeces up and seeing if any sand settles at the bottom.
How do I prevent my horse getting sand and associated colic?
Horses at greatest risk of ingesting sand are those on short sandy pastures as well as those that eat their feed directly off the ground in sandy areas.
If your horse is in a sand prone area, there are a couple of management techniques that can help limit the amount of sand ingestion:
* Avoid grazing on short sandy pastures
* Place an easy to clean form of matting under feed bins to limit foraging for food on sand (e.g. rubber matting or upside down carpet)
* Provide a high bulk diet through provision of good quality long stem roughage (approximately 2 flakes of hay morning and night for a 500kg horse)
* Feed psyllium husk: 100g/100kg per day for 5-7 days every 4-6 weeks.
Psyllium is insoluble fibre, which when mixed with water forms a gelatinous material. It is thought that this gel assists in providing a bulky volume in conjunction with good coarse roughage to help shift sand.
How do I treat my horse if I suspect there is sand?
If your horse is actively colicky, we recommend seeking immediate veterinary attention. Your vet will be able to evaluate your horse clinically and decide the best course of action relative to the symptoms your horse is displaying. Apart from providing pain relief for your horse, if we suspect sand we will routinely perform at least one purgative horse drench with Epsom salts.
If your horse is not colicky but you suspect that there may be sand (based on body condition, your geographic location, presence of diarrhea), we recommend having at least one purgative horse drench at the highest 2 risk periods during the year, along with dietary management (high bulk diet & monthly psyllium courses).
At Valley Equine Veterinary Centre, our purgative horse drench is usually a combination of Epsom salts, water and paraffin oil. These products together act as a laxative, lubricating by drawing water into the intestines and mildly irritating the bowels, stimulating motility and mobilisation of the sand. If it is suspected that a horse has a large volume of sand, we will regularly recommend multiple drenches with this combination, along with dietary management once the horse is no longer colicky.
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