If you're a horse owner, inspecting the quality and consistency of your horse's droppings becomes second nature. His fecal output reflects his intestinal health. Often, diarrhea results from changes in hay or feed. While a day of minor loose bowels isn't cause for concern if such feeding changes have occurred, severe diarrhea or that from unknown causes requires prompt veterinary attention. Stopping diarrhea depends on figuring out the reason for it.
Equine Diarrhea Causes
To cure or alleviate equine diarrhea, you must know why it's happening. Common causes include intestinal parasites, clostridial or salmonella infection, colitis and sand ingestion. A disease called Potomac horse fever causes severe diarrhea. If your horse is treated for another ailment requiring long-term antibiotics, that also can trigger diarrhea. Horses suffering from liver disease or congestive heart failure might exhibit diarrhea as well. Chronic diarrhea can result from inflammatory bowel disease.
If your horse experiences diarrhea, your vet can diagnose the cause via a fecal culture, along with a rectal examination. She'll take blood samples for a complete blood count and serum chemistry. In cases of prolonged or chronic diarrhea, your horse might require abdominal X-rays or ultrasounds. Abdominocentesis, also referred to as a belly tap, consists of collecting a fluid sample from the abdomen via a needle or catheter to aid in diagnosis.
For horses with chronic diarrhea, thorough deworming might do the trick. Even if he's current on his deworming program, ask your veterinarian about treating him with moxidectin or a "power pack" of fenbendazole given for five days. Follow that deworming with ivermectin, along with praziquantel to rid him of tapeworms.
Medications and Supplements
Ask your vet whether a daily dewormer might benefit your horse and help stop the diarrhea. Your also might try supplementing your horse with probiotics or prebiotics, to put good intestinal flora into your horse's system. Equine versions of kaopectate or bismuth can ease symptoms. Certain digestive enzymes designed for equines might help with diarrhea. Don't give any of these medications or supplements without veterinary approval, and not all at once. For best results, work out a plan with your vet to try a particular supplement for a certain time frame to see if it helps.
If your horse exhibits chronic, mild diarrhea, some management changes along with therapy might firm up his feces. If you live in a sandy area, add psyllium to his diet, which aids in passing sand through his intestines. Feed hay in a manger, on a mat or in a tub, not off the ground. Turn your horse out as much as possible -- 24/7 with shelter is ideal. Ensure he always has access to fresh, clean water. Feed good quality hay and make any feeding changes gradually. Keep your horse on a deworming protocol recommended by your veterinarian.
If your horse experiences severe, explosive diarrhea, he'll probably require hospitalization. At a veterinary hospital, he might receive intravenous fluid therapy, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and plasma. Untreated, explosive diarrhea can kill a horse quickly.
- Merck Veterinary Manual: Diarrheal Disease in Horses
- PetMD: Diarrhea in Horses
- Thal Equine LLC: Colitis, Diarrhea and Intestinal Health in Adult Horses
- SmartPak: What to Do About Horses with Diarrhea
- University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine: Diarrhea in the Horse -- Salmonella and Other Infections and Other Infec
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.