What is it and what can I expect if my horse has sand colic?
Sand colic is a common problem on Kangaroo Island due to the sandy nature of our coastal soils. Horses that are more prone to ingesting large amounts of sand include those that are underfed, fed on the ground, or live in overstocked, overgrazed pastures in sandy areas. Sand is very irritant to the lining of the digestive tract and can result in chronic diarrhoea and ill thrift. Life-threatening colic due to sand ingestion results when an impaction, digestive tract blockage due to enterolith (giant sand rock), or volvulus (twisted bowel) occurs.
Clinical signs of sand colic can include rolling, pawing, not eating, not passing faeces, laying down excessively, looking at and kicking the belly. However, it can also include signs such as diarrhoea (chronically or intermittently), weight loss or difficulty maintaining weight. If your horse experiences colic, the visiting vet should discuss your horse’s history and perform a thorough clinical exam to identify the cause of colic and/or diarrhoea.
It is important to rule out other causes of these problems and diagnostic tests may be employed. Tests to identify sand colic include faecal sand sedimentation, abdominal auscultation and palpation, abdominal fluid sampling, rectal palpation, abdominal ultrasound and radiography, and abdominal exploratory surgery.
Call the Clinic immediately if you see signs of colic, as prompt treatment makes success more likely. The best treatment for sand colic is oral psyllium. Your vet may need to administer psyllium and/or oil and fluids via nasogastric tube. Treatments such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and intravenous fluids may also be necessary. Severe or non-responsive sand colic may require abdominal surgery at an equine specialist centre.
What can I do to help prevent my horse from getting sand colic?
After the break in the season in Autumn is a specific risk period for sand ingestion as hungry horses grazing newly germinated plants pull up and ingest the entire plant – roots and soil included. This is an important time to give psyllium treatments and monitor sand within faeces with the sedimentation test. Prevention is always better than cure, so please don’t hesitate to contact the vet clinic to discuss your horse’s needs in relation to sand colic.