In areas with sandy soil, horses are inevitably prone to ingesting sand. They may pull up grass by the roots while grazing or munch on hay directly off the ground in their paddock. When the amount of sand in the horse’s digestive tract becomes excessive, it can irritate the intestinal lining, causing problems with motility and the absorption of nutrients. Sand can also accumulate in the horse’s large intestine enough to cause a complete blockage, leading to symptoms of colic. Below, methods for detection, treatment and prevention of sand ingestion in horses are described.
Signs that your horse may be ingesting too much sand:
If your horse has diarrhea, either loose feces or expulsion of fluid along with formed manure, this could be due to excessive sand in the digestive tract. Sand can be very irritating to the lining of a horse’s intestine, causing this malabsorptive condition.
• Weight Loss
A horse may be chronically underweight and/or failing to gain weight despite increased amounts of feed offered.
• Dull hair coat
Signs can range from intermittent and mild due to the weight of sand pulling on the intestine to severe pain caused by a complete blockage, a true “sand impaction”.
• My horse has a “beach in his belly ! “
Often, your horse will show no outward signs of having an excessive amount of sand in their large intestine. The discovery is not made until your veterinarian hears sand moving through the large intestine as they listen for gut sounds with a stethoscope. The sound has often been described as waves on a beach
• Fecal Sand Test
Sand can often be detected in the manure. As an easy test to perform right on the farm, place a few balls of manure in a bucket with water. If sand dissolves out into the bottom of your bucket once the water is dumped out, your horse is ingesting too much.
A horse’s abdomen can be radiographed to look for the presence of sand. However, usually a powerful xray machine, more commonly used in referral veterinary clinics, would be required.
Treatment and prevention strategies
Because sand may be so prevalent in a horse’s environment, especially in coastal areas, treatment strategies must go hand-in-hand with prevention measures to truly protect your horse.
Giving your horse this fibrous supplement, usually available in either a powder or pelleted form, can aid in the expulsion of sand from the digestive tract. The psyllium tends to swell once ingested, picking up sand as it moves through and out of the horse with the manure. It is important to note that dosage recommendations listed on the product label you choose may only be appropriate in a maintenance situation. Therefore, it is always safer to check with your veterinarian if you suspect a problem of excessive sand in your horse and/or notice any of the above mentioned clinical signs. Your veterinarian can help you decide how much psyllium to give and how often based on an individual horse’s needs.
Occasionally, when a horse has ingested enough sand to cause symptoms of colic, surgery is required to physically remove sand from the large colon where it is most likely to settle.
Managing your horse’s environment, in particular the area where they spend most of their time eating, is an important part of the prevention program. Consider the following strategies for keeping food off the ground, purposely decreasing a horse’s most important exposure site for sand ingestion.
- Placing hay in a hay rack or hay net, safely secured to a fence post so that a horse cannot become tangled.
- If grain and/or hay is fed outdoors, placing a large rubber mat beneath the feeding area so fallen food can be salvaged without mixing directly with the sandy soil below.
- For horses at pasture, paddock rotation and general pasture management to prevent erosion and overgrazing, preserving grass to help decrease a horse’s chances of ingesting sand clumped to the roots.
In parts of the country where sandy soil is most prevalent, horses may be at increased risk of sand ingestion for at least part of the year. As owners, it is important to recognize symptoms of excessive sand build-up in your horse. With a little help from your veterinarian, a treatment and prevention plan can be implemented to offer your horse the best protection possible.