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Sand Colic is something I hadn’t heard about until I started working at a barn, where all the runs are hard-packed gravel. Gravel is often a practical choice for stable owners. It is great for preventing excessive moisture (keeping your horse from unnecessary hoof issues) and for ease in picking manure. However, there are some considerations for horse owners where gravel and sand abound.
Sandy Bowels and How They Happen
When your horse grazes, he picks up more than just the grass, hay or grain. If he grazes in a sandy pasture, he will inevitably pick up sand with it. Or, he may grab that tender patch of fresh grass and a clump of roots and sand along with it. If your horse lives in a gravel run, he will inevitably ingest some gravel with the fallen bits of hay and grain on his stall floor. Depending on your horse’s scenario, he may be at a mild-to-moderate risk of sand colic.
Photo Credit: The Horse Channel
When sand or gravel is consumed, it travels through your horse’s digestive system and typically rests in the large colon. Since sand and gravel weigh so much in comparison to the light fiber that his system is meant to handle, it is very difficult to get it to leave the digestive system. As you can see from the diagram, the large colon is the lowest point of his digestive tract, so gravity does not help the situation at all. The more sand that accumulates, the higher potential for discomfort, illness, and even lethal colic.
From Discomfort to Danger
The sand that resides can cause a range of discomfort. The particles that do make it through the rest of his digestive tract will irritate his bowels on the way out. He may also suffer a general stomach pain and diarrhea. Left untreated, this accumulation of sand, gravel, rocks and dirt in your horse’s digestive system will eventually cause a blockage and subsequent colic, which can lead to death.
What Can I Do About It?
Of course, we want our dear equine partners to be in the clear if we can help it! Firstly, know potential risk factors where your horse is kept. If he lives in a sand or gravel run, make sure his hay is fed to him in a bucket (that is routinely dumped out) as opposed to directly on the ground. If your horse is turned out in a pasture, find out if sand is present in the soil.
There are a few ways to determine whether your horse has sand in his bowels. The at-home test is to take a sample of his manure (fresh as possible) and dissolve it in a plastic bag full of water. The sand will sink to the bottom. However, there is no direct proportion of sand-in-bag to sand-in-colon. This is just a basic determinant of whether there is sand in his gut, because each horse will have a different ability to push sand through his system.
Your vet will have more advanced ways to determine sand in the colon, including radiograph and ultrasound. If your vet finds that your horse’s case is severe, he can surgically remove the sand. He will likely leave psyllium in your horse’s colon to push the rest out, as he won’t be able to get to all of it surgically. However, these measures are all worst-case scenario.
There is a much easier way to route sand from your horse’s belly before he even begins to show discomfort from sand and gravel residue. Entering stage right is Sand Clear, a supplement you can add to your horse’s grain that actually tastes of apples and molasses. The active ingredient is psyllium husk, which is naturally found in psyllium seed. In conjunction with the water in your horse’s intestines, psyllium husk forms a soft, squishy gel that lumps together and pushes all other matter out of the intestines with it. It is gentle and the most thorough ingredient found in removing unwanted matter from the colon. Wheat bran only has 10% soluble fiber and oat bran less than 15% soluble fiber, whereas psyllium husk has 80% soluble fiber. You will also find this in human form over-the-counter at your local drug store.
Per Sand Clear’s instructions, all it takes is a scoop to scoop-and-a-half (for the average 1,000 lb. horse) for seven days out of each month. I’m not sure every horse needs this supplement monthly, though. I would recommend every three to six months unless you know your horse favors sand or gravel. It is not recommended to treat them more often than once a month, as it would risk changing the homeostasis (normal conditions) of your horse’s digestive tract. As always, consult your vet before making any changes to your horse’s diet and supplements.
You can order your own bucket of Sand Clear here.