The trots…you may be thinking this is a training article but this is about something much more troublesome. It goes by many names: diarrhea, loose stool, cow pies, and many analogies that are too impolite to mention…the trots. But even if you don’t currently have a horse with diarrhea issues, read on. You may need it in the future.
Your horse’s poo is like the porridge in the Three Bears story…not too hard, not too soft, somewhere in the middle is perfect. Healthy poo should be “crumbly”, not hard pebbles and not liquid. The state of your horse’s poo will give you signs as to the health of your horse so pay attention every day to its condition. Suddenly watery stool will give you a heads up if there is an issue.
If it continues, know that you have a problem that needs to be dealt with. Most people whose horses experience loose stool relate it directly to their feed, and in most cases that is true. A change of hay, change of basic feed, sudden introduction of fresh grass can all lead to stool in a liquid state. But when chronic diarrhea comes around, it may take some time and deduction work to figure out the cause and the cure. Here are some possibilities to think about when dealing with diarrhea.
Stress: Some horses obviously are more sensitive where stress is concerned. Separation from a barn buddy, trailering, late meals, injury, and even loud noises around their “personal space” can lead to high stress levels which can lead to both temporary and chronic digestive issues that cause diarrhea. Though the diarrhea is a secondary issue, the first being the stress and then overall digestive problems, keeping the stressful horse as calm as possible and protecting the digestive tract will help alleviate the accompanying loose stool. Ideas to help calm the stressful horse are:
- Play soft music at all times which can be a distraction from the stress
- Make sure the horse is CONSISTENTLY exercised. Exercise lowers stress levels and increases natural stress fighters.
- Feed a low sugar/low starch diet. Remove all grains, molasses, and add healthier omega 3 fats to the diet with flax, chia seed, coconut meal, camelina meal, which gives calm energy as is provided in our IRON HORSE mix. If you are feeding alfalfa in any form, try removing it for a week. Is your horse calmer? They may have a sensitivity to alfalfa. Since alfalfa is a legume (like peanuts) your horse can be having a low level allergic reaction. That can lead to issues such as showing higher stress levels, spookiness, and diarrhea.
- Add stress reducing herbs into the diet. Chamomile, lemongrass, passionflower, sage, are all calming herbs. HERE is a mild mix of calming herbs. HERE is a stronger mix of calming herbs. Your horse may react differently on each mix so if one doesn't work, try another!
- Add digestive herbs into the diet. Peppermint, basil, fenugreek, fennel are all great digestive herbs. HERE is a great mix for keeping the digestive tract healthy. If your horse is already having digestive issues, try THIS one.
- Feed a lower protein hay in a slow feed hay bag to increase feed times. Many horses feel stress from lack of food, and as a grazing animal should eat for 6-8 hours a day. This not only gives them something to think about other than the other stresses in their life but is much healthier on their digestive tract. Rich hays and short feeding times increases chances of digestive upset that can lead to diarrhea and even ulcers.
Genetic Digestive Issues: Digestive issues can happen for many reasons, most of them can be avoided and the above suggestions will aid in repairing them. However there is also the possibility of genetic digestive issues. For instance, I have a Bull Mastiff. He’s a great dog but he has his Daddy’s digestive tract and I always have to be aware of what I feed him because of his special needs in this area. I have to feed him small meals and only allow him to drink small amounts of water or he will throw up. Fortunately I know this is a genetic issue because I know his parents. It makes it easy to diagnose and deal with. Such is usually not the case with our horses. A lot of what we do is guess work. Sometimes it can take months to figure out what the issue is. Case in point my horse Gideon. When I got Gideon he was ribby and had high pain levels. I say this because if you touched him most anywhere on his body he would try to bite you or at least move away. At the time most vets had only heard of EPSM/PSSM but didn’t know much about diagnosing it or how to deal with it. It took me six months to track down what all his issues where, and how to deal with the dietary issues that came out of this issue. Though the stomach issues were just a “side effect” of the EPSM, balancing between the digestive issues and properly feeding an EPSM horse took copious amounts of time and research.
Sand Colic: In my area we don’t see many issues with sand colic, but now that I have customers on the east coast I’m hearing more about it. One thing I didn’t realize was that diarrhea is an early warning system for sand colic. Certainly if your horse is experiencing chronic diarrhea, you should consider sand colic as a possibility no matter where you live. Horses who are not getting enough minerals will eat dirt or sand so sand colic is always a possibility. The treatment for it is very easy, inexpensive, and has other health benefits as well. PSYLLIUM (in seed or husk form) is given as the standard treatment for diarrhea due to sand colic. It clears out the system of unwanted yuck…kind of like pouring RotoRooter down your kitchen drain. However Psyllium is highly absorbent and should ALWAYS be fed wet down. It should also be fed separate from vitamin and mineral supplements as it may slow down the absorption of these nutrients (and waste your money!) It can be mixed in a meal with basic hay pellets, seeds (flax, chai etc) and oils for “smooth moving” action.
Candida overload and/or bacterial infections: Water sources aren't always perfect and can introduce issues into the digestive tract causing issues of its own. I have had customers use my digestive products for their horses and solved chronic diarrhea issues and others that say it didn’t work. So what to do? That is when you have to think outside the box! I have an herbal recipe called COOTIE KICKER, which boosts the immune system while detoxing the body. It’s also a powerful anti-bacterial mix. Horses that have not had success on my TUMMY B CALM mixes have had great success with COOTIE KICKER. Why? Because the issue wasn't that their horse had digestive malfunction, but a bacteria that was causing the diarrhea. You know the saying about going to Mexico and “don’t drink the water?” A barn full of horses may not have any issues with the bacteria load in the water (or other similar source) but one horse does. This does not mean the bacteria are not present, but one horse may be more sensitive to it than others. Don’t rule this idea out just because all the other horses are fine. A combination of the above ideas will help solve this issue.
- Make sure current feeding program isn't adding to the issue
- Reduce stress levels. Stress can cause small issues to turn into big ones.
- Protect the digestive tract with digestive herbal mixes and probiotics.
- Add antibacterial herbs to the diet.
If problems continue, have your water tested. It is important to solve the issues causing the diarrhea as chronic diarrhea robs the body of nutrients and can cause dehydration. Solving the problem may end up being simple or may be complex. Try one solution at a time and give each solution time to work. Sometimes the body just needs time to heal.