Diarrhea or loose stools are signs of a problem with the horse’s health. You should call your veterinarian unless the problem resolves within a day. Horses can quickly become dehydrated when they have diarrhea, and dehydration can lead to colic, a potentially life-threatening abdominal disease. The root cause of your equine diarrhea could be a serious health problem that you can have a hard time identifying yourself.
Why do horses have diarrhea?
Diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease in itself, and usually indicates a problem with the horse’s digestive system. Typically, horse manure is a sturdy pile of round “bread” or “apples.” If a horse’s digestive system is altered in some way, resulting in abnormal movement and altered fluid absorption, its stool may range from slightly runny to very loose and watery.
In severe cases, loose manure may be forced out and end up covering the corral walls and anything else in its path. Usually, diarrhea may last a day or two, go away on its own, and you may never find out why it happened. But in some cases, it can be very acute and severe, or become chronic, requiring ongoing treatment and vigilance.
There are many causes of diarrhea in horses. While most events are not a huge problem, diarrhea can also be a sign of a serious, life-threatening illness. Some causes of diarrhea in horses include:
- Behavioural, such as nervousness from being in a trailer or attending an event or pressure to move to a new stable
- Change of feed – new feed that horses are not used to or overfeeding regular feed
- into lush pastures
- food sensitivities or allergies
- spoiled feed
- Parasite load
- bacterial infections such as salmonella
- Equine Gastric Ulcer Syndrome or EGUS
- Excessive intake of sand
- Potomac Marfe (PHF)
- NSAIDs (including phenylbutazone)
- Poisoning, such as slafamin poisoning
- Cancer in the digestive tract
If the diarrhea isn’t caused by an obvious cause that you know will pass (such as a minor behavioral cause), it’s time to find out other causes of diarrhea that may be causing it. Start worrying if your horse is showing other symptoms with water droppings, including:
- blood or mucus in the stool
- Bad-smelling stool (beyond the normal stool smell)
- diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours
- “Bullet Poo”
- Other symptoms of colic
- Elevated rectal temperature
- Signs of weight loss or other health problems before diarrhea starts
- Signs of dehydration (skin squeeze or capillary refill test)
- pale gums
- loss of appetite
Treatment and Prevention
If your horse has diarrhea, you need to determine how severe it is. You probably know your horse gets nervous when the farrier comes by, in a trailer, or at a horse show. In these cases, loose stools may not be a sign of illness, and things will return to normal once the stress is over. Otherwise, make sure your horse is eating properly. If the diarrhea does not go away after 24 hours, call your veterinarian who can help you figure out what’s causing the diarrhea and begin proper treatment for your horse.
A veterinarian may take stool samples and/or blood samples to help determine the cause of the problem and recommend keeping the horse away from other horses to prevent contagion. The veterinarian can also give the horse medication to relieve any abdominal discomfort and help slow the bowel. Probiotics and other gut balancing supplements can be given as recommended by your veterinarian. Depending on what is causing the diarrhea, your horse may be given antibiotics or other medications.
Avoiding diarrhea is very similar to avoiding colic. It’s hard to prevent completely, but sensible precautions will help:
- Avoid quickly changing new feeds.
- Gradually introduce horses into dense pastures.
- Keep feeds, such as grains and concentrates, locked so that the horse may become loose and unable to save itself.
- Vaccinate your horse with the core vaccine and any other vaccines that are appropriate for your area.
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your veterinarian right away. For health-related questions, be sure to consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know your pet’s health history, and can give your pet the best advice.