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Sand ingestion: causing more than colic — Blair Lybbert, DVM

Ingested sand can lead to sand colic. Little wonder that a horse shows signs of belly pain when large amounts of sand have accumulated in his digestive system. Sand actually can build up enough to obstruct the colon.

Even the most fastidious caretakers have horses who accumulate sand. Dusty hay and feeding on the ground can contribute to large amounts of sand intake. Some horses actually eat sand and soil from time to time.

Sand impactions should be taken very seriously. Some horses will be found to have actual grit or sand in their rectums when palpated by a veterinarian. Sometimes sand can be “floated” out of a handful of manure and allowed to settle out over a few minutes. Other horses may or may not have a characteristic water-on-the-beach sound on their lower abdomen when a stethoscope is used.  The most accurate way to diagnose a horse with sand is with an abdominal radiograph.

Sand can cause or contribute to several health issues that don’t manifest as colic or abdominal pain. Sand accumulation is suspect in any horse with chronic diarrhea, weight control issues, poor hair coat, attitude changes, or decreased performance. Some horses are more prone to retaining sand accidentally ingested, others either seem to ingest less or simply pass it through more readily.

Regardless of how the sand got there, it needs to be removed. A veterinarians can insert a nasogastric tube and administer mineral oil as a laxative, which creates extra motility that will help the sand pass. This should be done in horses with confirmed high loads.

One common way to treat and prevent new sand accumulation is to add a psyllium product to the horse’s diet. Assure Plus© by Arenus is the most effective product on the market for sand clearing. Of course, prevention is key so watch your hay and try not to feed on the ground.