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Foals and young horses commonly have diarrhea, also referred to as scouring. How concerned should you be?
HHH: The most common cause of scours in foals is a reaction to food. Reactions can occur when there are more nutrients in the feed than the foal is used to, or the feed source is changed too rapidly. If the dam is eating a lot of rich grass, her foal is at risk for scours.
HHH: Diarrhea can occur suddenly and may become chronic . Evaluate the foal immediately if sudden diarrhea occurs. Rule out life-threatening Potomac Horse Fever and salmonella poisoning right away. Check his temperature and overall condition. Fluids may need to be given. Call the vet with other signs of illness accompanying diarrhea such as distress, pain, biting and shock (pale gums, decreased respiration, decreased pulse and sweating).
HHH: Hives can cause diarrhea. Wheals are raised patches produced by hives (urticaria), the most common skin allergy. Sudden consumption of spring grass can produce symptoms such as diarrhea or respiratory problems, although it is not common. Hives are normally temporary and short lived.
HHH: Parasites are a frequent cause of diarrhea . Consider parasites when looking at the horse’s overall health. Is the horse on a routine worming program? An infestation of parasites can cause severe damage to the horse’s digestive tract. Do a fecal exam (see www.thenaturalhorsevet.net ) to make sure your program is working.
HHH: More obscure causes of diarrhea in horses of all ages include:
• Improper regular feeding of Epsom salt. (MgSO4 should be considered only for emergencies; use MgO if necessary)
• Crohn’s disease from bacteria (Mycobacterium paratuberculosis) in the intestinal wall
• Enteritis: Acute enteritis colic (sand colic) is intestinal inflammation of mucous membranes, which is also characterized by dehydration and inability to absorb nutrients from food (may be life threatening). Salmonellosis is an enteritis inflammation of the small intestine caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium. Enteritis may also be secondary to an infection resulting from bacteria (Escherichia coli) especially in unsanitary conditions with foaling.
• Colitis X: a little known disease also characterized by shock, likely from long distance transport or excessive workload; associated with lack of food and water, a previous disease and possibly E. coli.
• Trichomoniasis (protozoal diarrhea), usually seen in horses subject to stress, disease or injury, changes intestinal flora and requires large doses of antibiotics.
HHH: Chronic diarrhea indicates an imbalance in your horse’s bacterial flora, which may be a result of:
• Progressive weakening due to chemical overload in feed
• Malabsorption syndrome
• Liver disease
• Antibiotic treatments
HHH: Supports for Scours:
• Reduce, control or eliminate turnout at certain times or in particular fields.
• Carefully remove concentrates and increase fiber intake.
• Try Rosehip tea (1 cup 2X/day) as an astringent.
• Encourage natural flora in the diet with supplemental lactobacillus, acidophilus or commercial probiotic.
• Rebalance digestive tract and stimulate or inhibit intestinal tract secretions with acupuncture.
• Use an herbal colic treatment.
• Slippery Elm Bark Powder soothes and heals the gut lining. Mash 2 tbsp into 2 cups cooked pumpkin, twice daily in feed.
• Charcoal, also known as Carbo Veg, is useful with diarrhea.
• Tissue Salts require careful observation of the stool: Cal Phos when unsure or sputtery; Nat Phos for sour smell or green; Nat Sulph on senior horse with dark diarrhea. Dose: 2 tabs per 1/2 hr until improvement then 2 per day until normal.
• Meadowsweet or Raspberry helps calm inflammation of intestines.
• Bach Flower Remedy in drinking water (up to 20 drops) or smoothed across the abdomen can address diarrhea from overexcitement or anxiety.
• Essential oils Bergamot, Sandalwood and Patchouli are comforting supports for scours.
• Homeopathics (see chart)
HHH: Possible veterinarian approaches to scours:
• Full exam
• Fecal samples and analysis
• Review abdominal fluid
• Endoscopy view of the stomach lining
• Liver analysis to evaluate digestive damage through a blood test
• Glucose absorption test and rectal biopsies to determine if related to intestines
• Resupply proper fluids if dehydrated
HHH: Generally, scours is a temporary condition. Identify the source and eliminate it. When your horse’s body returns to homeostasis (disease and stress-free) the scours will no longer be present. In cases of rich grass, once grass has moved through the digestive tract, the diarrhea usually improves and the horse’s metabolism will return to normal. If you allow the horse back in an area with rich grasses, do it more gradually and in a controlled fashion. Scours is often a short-lived occurrence. With sudden, severe, acute or chronic diarrhea, consult your veterinarian to avoid possible life-threatening situations.
Factors Contributing to Equine Diarrhea
• Reaction to rich grass
• Excessive nutrients
• Antibiotic use and overuse
• Rapid changes in feed
• Increased gut motility
• Consumption of fungal infected clover
• Stomach ulcers
• Liver problems
• Acorn consumption
• Interruption of regular exercise
• Immune expulsion to rid toxins
• Viral or Bacterial attack
Shari Frederick, BS, NMD, LE, a nutritional educator, assists horseowners in making healthier, more natural choices in horse care. She is an advocate of natural prevention and support for overall health, healing and stronger immune systems for both humans and animals. Shari is an independent author, international lecturer and self-styled naturalist. Check out Shari’s Healthy Horse Hints at holistichorse.com or visit Shari’s websites, happyhorsehavenrescue.com and horserescuefaces.com