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Is your horse suffering from diarrhea? Here's what you can check yourself

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Winter is approaching, and this means many horses may suffer from diarrhea. Changes in feed and weather conditions can challenge the horse's digestive system. Here’s a deep dive into what you, as a horse owner, can do to help your horse's sensitive stomach.

Read also: 50 good advice for all horse people


Feed is crucial

Horses are naturally designed to walk long distances and graze on grass-like plants for about 18 hours a day—this is especially true for wild horses. Nowadays, conditions are different, and this means we, as horse owners, must pay close attention to the feed we provide to prevent digestive issues.

Change Feed Gradually

Does your horse get a lot of concentrated feed? It's important not to change this feed abruptly. The transition should be gradual. A good rule of thumb, suggests that every change in feed requires 3 weeks for the gut flora to adjust to the new feed.

Wrap Can Cause Loose Stools in Some Horses

All horses need either hay or wrap in addition to regular concentrated feed. Ensure the quality is good to avoid problems. However, some horses may still develop diarrhea when fed with wrap, even if the wrap is of decent quality. According to Horsedoc, the wrap is ensiled hay packed in plastic and sometimes treated to extend its shelf life. This fermentation process lowers the acidity of the straw material compared to regular hay, giving it a distinctive sour smell. This smell comes from volatile fatty acids that evaporate when the wrap is opened. Horses are not naturally designed to process fermented feed. While most horses can handle it, some cannot tolerate the volatile fatty acids and their effects on gut flora.

What you can do before consulting a vet

Always take loose stools and potential diarrhea in horses very seriously. Some horses show minimal symptoms of diarrhea, while others clearly show signs of discomfort. In such cases, you should always seek immediate veterinary assistance, as diarrhea can be life-threatening for a horse.

If you are convinced that the situation is not life-threatening and your horse's general condition is good, here are some things you can check before calling the vet:

Take diarrhea seriously

  • Stop feeding wrap and switch to high-quality hay, preferably with a feed analysis so you know its contents (e.g., sugar and water levels).
  • Distribute meals into smaller portions several times throughout the day.
  • Check if your horse has received deworming treatment.

Loose stools are quite "normal" in horses during seasonal changes. As they transition from grazing to being fed hay, wrap, and concentrated feed, horse owners should watch if the diarrhea continues for extended periods, if the horse develops a fever, or if the stool has a particularly foul smell. Some common causes of diarrhea in horses include:

Always Consult a Vet if in Doubt

  • Worm infections
  • Infections from viruses or bacteria (e.g., Salmonella or E. Coli)
  • Colitis X (Tarok disease), is a condition where the intestinal lining is destroyed
  • Poisoning from plants, for example

The most important takeaway from this article is to always consult a veterinarian if you are unsure whether your horse's diarrhea is serious or just a reaction to a change in feed. Horses should not have persistent loose stools, so if this continues for a long period, ensure your horse is examined by a vet.

Read also: Visualize Your Way to Becoming a Better Rider


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