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How to Treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome in Horses

| Updated September 26, 2017

Things You'll Need

  • Exercise area for your horse

  • Antacid such as Zantac, Pepcid, or Maalox

  • Low-protein hay

  • Salt

  • Bran

  • 20cc syringe

  • Sugar

  • Pepto-Bismol

  • Feed bucket

  • Large coffee can

  • Equine dentist

Horses, for all their size and strength, can actually be quite fragile. One of the most delicate parts of the equine system is its digestive tract. Colic, the No. 1 killer of horses, is a problem with the digestive tract, and anything that causes problems to the intestines can lead to colic. It is important to know how to treat horses with problematic digestive tracts.

One of the most common causes of irritable bowel syndrome and ulcers in horses is nerves, a lack of turnout and constant grazing. Horses were not meant to be kept in stalls and only allowed out for short periods of time, and they were not meant to be fed only twice a day. Horses need to be outside eating and moving all day, every day, with only occasional stops for rest and shelter. Humans have so altered the horse's natural lifestyle that it has caused the mental stress to turn inwards. The digestive tract becomes irritable and causes ulcers and other digestive problems, which can lead to colic.

Have an area where you horse can be turned out all the time if possible. Make sure there is a shelter in the turnout space that the horse can seek if it chooses to, but do not confine it. Allowing the horse plenty of free exercise is a must for treating intestinal disorders.

Roughage is an absolute must for a horse with irritable bowel problems. Do not, however, feed it high-protein roughage such as alfalfa or timothy hay. This will worsen your horse's condition and can cause immediate colic. What is needed is a low-protein, high-fiber hay such as first-cutting coastal or simple oat hay. All concentrates and grains should be removed from the horse's diet, and hay should be fed free choice, 24/7, to the horse with an irritable bowel. Make sure the horse's teeth are in good shape as well, because it will need to chew all this roughage. Make an appointment with your equine dentist to make sure all is well.

Medicate your horse during the early stages of treatment. Begin with Zantac, Pepcid or Maalox once or twice a day, depending on your horse's symptoms. Dose your horse according to weight, so if your horse weighs 900 lbs, you can take the directions on the back of the box for human dosing and multiply it by how much a horse outweighs an adult human.

If your horse has diarrhea, you can dose it with Pepto-Bismol, up to 20cc at a time, twice a day. Be sure and wait at least an hour after dosing it with the antacid. Put the medication in the large syringe and administer it just as you would an oral wormer. These medications will help soothe the irritated tissues in the stomach and intestines and allow them to heal while you are practicing the above steps. After about a month, the horse should start looking, feeling and acting better.

Bran can be a blessing if you use it wisely. It is a laxative, but it is also a bulk-forming fiber that can clean out the digestive tract and soothe it at the same time. Giving your horse a warm bran mash every few days will help increase its appetite and give it a tasty treat to look forward to. Take a large coffee can and get a scoop of loose bran and put it in a bucket. Add warm water until you get a soupy consistency. Then add 1 cup of sugar and a handful of salt, and mix well. Serve warm. Make sure the horse has plenty of water when you give it this treat.

You should always contact your veterinarian if you have serious concerns about your horse's health. If it continues to have diarrhea or shows no improvement or worsens during the time you are treating it, you will need to haul it in to the vet and have a full checkup done. There could be something more serious going on.


  • Use caution when administering the medications to your horse. Some horses will resist quite aggressively.