You arrive at the stable happy and looking forward to your ride. Striding to your horses stall you observe that he doesn't greet you at the door as usual. On closer inspection, you see him standing in the corner with his head down, hay untouched. Quickly noticing many runny fecal piles, you fear the worst. Your partner is feeling poorly and it has manifested itself in his intestinal tract.
Equine diarrhea has many causes and you must be a part time investigator to rule out each cause. Your first consideration should be whether the stools are simply loose, or true diarrhea. Diarrhea is loose, watery, unformed manure, with frequent bowel movements. Diarrhea in horses is not a disease in itself, it's a symptom. Sudden onset of diarrhea means that something is amiss and contacting your veterinarian is advised. Being unsure as to the cause, you may wish to isolate your horse from other animals and take prophylactic precautions until the nature of his upset is found.
Common causes of equine diarrhea are:
If you live in an area with sandy soil or the stall's footing is sand, there's likelihood that sand ingestion may be the culprit. As your horse grazes or eats hay from the ground, small amounts of sand can be ingested and will accumulate after some time. Fecal samples are taken for diagnosis and your vet may suggest adding psyllium to his diet on a regular basis as well as feeding his hay in a bunker, rather than ground feeding.
Strongyles have been implicated at times as a cause of diarrhea. A good deworming program is an easy and inexpensive way for prevention. Your veterinarian will be happy to suggest an excellent rotational worming protocol.
Such bacterial diseases as Salmonella and Potomac Horse fever can produce profuse and watery stools. Special precautions should be taken when handling horses during these episodes. Veterinary intervention and isolating your horse is required. Salmonella in particular is quite contagious and can be passed to other horses and sometimes, to humans.
Tumors in the digestive tract can produce diarrhea. The most common are the cancer growths of lymphosarcoma and squamous cell carcinoma. An equine hospital is equipped with the latest technology for diagnosis and removal of these tumors may be indicated.
Having exhausted all known causes of diarrhea your horse may still be having problems. After consulting your vet, he may suggest that you try a different type of hay or grain. I can bear witness to the "unknown cause" of diarrhea.
Spinner was my coming two year old colt and suffered with diarrhea for a good three months before we found the cause. He had been poked, prodded, and x-rayed with still no root cause. He never lost weight nor seemed to suffer any ill effects from his symptom and he began to like both Probiotics and Kaopectate. My vet suggested that we try a different type of hay. Voila! The simple change of a hay source did the trick. As it turned out, this colt was particularly sensitive to nitrogen (found in fertilizer) in his hay. The following year we used less nitrogen in our fertilizer mix and he's never had a problem since.
If your horse is suffering with diarrhea your first call should be to your veterinarian. He will ask you a myriad of questions that are vital to finding the cause. Make sure your horse has plenty of water available as dehydration may happen quickly. Monitor your horse's number of bowel movements and any change in consistency. You may wish to withhold grain and feed hay only until improvement is seen. Above all, be calm and between your excellent care and your veterinarian's instructions, you'll soon be riding your healthy happy horse.