Sand Colic
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   11th Sep 2010   •   18,909 views   •   10 comments
Colic is an ailment that commonly affects all shapes and sizes of horses all around the world. Colic can have many causes and many effects, but always one thing about it remains the same: Colic is fearsomely painful and potentially deadly.

Colic is more common in some parts of the world than others, and depending on where you are, some forms of colic will be more abundant. Since I live in South Africa, and a sandy part of it at that, I shall be putting my main focus upon sand colic, which I have noticed is a far less renowned version of colic in other places – yet certainly not one which deserves to be ignored!

Related Article: Preventing Sand Colic
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Sand colic is caused, as its name suggests, by the ingestion of sand. Now, simply swallowing sand will do nothing whatsoever to the horse, but what happens when the horse tried to digest it? The sand cannot be digested. As such, the sand will begin to travel through the horse’s intestine – and certainly the horse will be able to excrete some of it, but what of the sand that remains. Traces of sand become trapped in the intestine and will gradually begin to build up. This can even cause the digested food the horse is trying to pass to get trapped as well, until the horse finally ends up with an impaction.

What is an impaction, you ask? Well, I suppose it could be compared to human constipation. The horse has a blockage in its intestine, so it cannot pass any droppings or gas from the other side of that blockage. A horse being allowed to consume foreign objects, such as baling twine, or not having access to water after feed can also cause blockages.

From a blockage, many other complications can occur. For one, if the horse does not manage to remove the blockage soon, the build-up of gas can cause gas colic, which will make the horse feel even more pain, so well as heightening the risk of every horse owner’s worst nightmare: The twisted gut. When a horse has an impaction in their intestine, especially those with sand, it makes one point of the intestine heavier than the rest. As such, if you allow the horse to roll, this weight can cause the intestine to flip and, if you are most unlucky, twist.

Once the gut is twisted, an operation is the only way to save your horse, and even then there is a huge risk involved.

Horse sand colic
Choc’s scar about a month after her colic operation.

Thankfully, sand colic, or any kind of colic really, seldom gets bad enough that the horse will need an operation or other extensive treatment. If you catch it early, the colic will most likely be over in a day and your horse will be right as rain to do whatever you like. Many a time I have had a horse colic one day, and had a vet pronounce it sound to compete the next. If the colic is only mild – it really ends up having only the same sort of effect on a horse that a stomachache might have on a human. It hurts, but when it’s gone – it’s gone. Of course, it would be most unwise to assume that you have been lucky enough to get a mild one-day colic, so you should always call the vet just in case it is worse than you originally thought.

With sand colic, the vet will often drench the horse. Drenching includes threading a soft rubber pipe from the horse’s nostril to its stomach. The vet then takes a solution of warm water and liquid paraffin and pours it into a funnel that sends it down the tube directly into the horse’s stomach. This liquid paraffin will help to break down the blockage and, if it is not too bad, allow the horse to pass it. Often with a bad blockage one will need to have their horse drenched every day for a week or more until the blockage comes out… If it comes out.

The other thing that the vet can do for your horse is to give it a painkiller. Not only does this make the horse feel better, but it will also lessen the chances of the horse rolling and twisting a gut. Besides that, pain makes a horse clench its muscles, which makes it even harder for the blockage to pass through, so when on painkillers the horse will be able to relax, which leaves more space for the blockage to pass.

The vet can also use his stethoscope to listen for the movement of sand in your horse’s gut, which can give him a hint as to what the risk is of the horse building an impaction. If there is no sound, it means that the horse’s digestive system is not taking action, which is also a very bad sign. It is also common that when a horse is bloated from gas colic one will not be able to hear any movement in its intestines. It is always a good idea to have your vet listen for sand whenever they come out to visit your horse, since colic is always better to prevent than to treat.
The other thing your vet can do is to give the horse a rectal inspection. The vet will feel around in the horse’s intestine as far as they can reach, and this can often give them a clue as to if there is an impaction or a twisted gut, where the problem is, and what they can do. If the blockage is far enough along the gut, the vet will sometimes even be able to remove some of it by hand.

Well, now that we’ve covered the dark and dismal topic of the risks and workings of colic, let’s go on to how to prevent it. With sand colic, the obvious best method is to get your horse off the sand, but if your set-up is like mine, then you realize this is not always possible, however, you can attempt to manage it better. Make sure there are no shoots of grass in your horse’s sandy paddock, since when they pluck grass from amongst sand, they end up eating more sand than grass, as they dust it away with their lips to get to the grass, then still take in the sand clinging to the roots. As such: Grass or sand. Nothing in between.
Another good idea is to feed your horse its hay in a bathtub, a hay bag, or something that can catch the oats that fall, as opposed to on the ground or in a net. I know that my main problem is with horses picking oats out of sand, and even though I’ve done all I can to prevent that, it still happens.

When feeding your horse its hard feed, add some oil, as this will aid digestion and lessen the risk of the feed sticking in the intestine. Another good idea is to dampen it slightly, so there is less chance of the horse flinging it around. You may also want to place your horse’s feed bucket on an old carpet or something of the sort to make sure it doesn’t drop any food into the sand.
Another reason for a horse eating sand is if they don’t have enough Sodium in their bodies, in which case they will intentionally seek out the salt in the sand and try to eat it. To avoid this, you should always have a salt lick, and even a mineral lick, available to your horse.

Lastly, one can buy psyllium husks at some health shops. You can add these to your horse’s feed, and they can help to remove the sand already inside the horse.

Keep your horse well hydrated
Keep your horse well hydrated.

Now we know how to attempt to prevent sand colic, but what can we do ourselves if we suspect that our horse might have it? First, watch for a horse that is lying down often, rolling, or kicking and biting at its belly. If you see these signs, it is time for a closer inspection. First observe the horse’s actions. Does it seem listless? Do its eyes seem dull and is it showing little interest in its surroundings? When the horse gets up after lying down, does it shake? A horse with colic will often refrain from shaking, since they don’t feel well and are repulsed by the idea of extra effort, whereas a healthy horse will almost always choose to shake the sand from its coat.

A horse with colic
A horse with colic probably won’t shake when it gets up.

The next thing to check would be the eyes and gums. Gently pull down the lower lid of the horse’s eye to see the pink membrane inside. Do the same with its lips to examine the gums. If the colour seems more white than pink, your horse probably has colic.

Next, listen to the sounds of your horse’s stomach. There should be a fair amount of sound. If there is no sound, or too much sound, that could be cause for worry. Another thing you can do is test if your horse is dehydrated. Pinch a section of skin and pull it away, then release it. If it takes an abnormally long time to lie flat, you should try to get your horse to drink some water, as hydration is very important in colic recovery.

If you think your horse has colic, all that you can do is to call the vet, then walk your horse around until he arrives. DO NOT let the horse roll! Twisted guts occur most often from a colicking horse being allowed to roll. If your horse has been colicking for a long time and needs to lie down to rest (Colic can be exhausting for a horse) then you may sometimes need to allow it to do so, but make sure you do not let it roll, and that you have somebody ready to get the horse up should it try.

Don’t let a colicking horse roll
Don’t let a colicking horse roll.

Well, that is sand colic. Unfortunately, it is a curse to all horse owners, as it is just so common and so deadly. I think most of will agree, however, that the worst part of colic is just how little we can do for our beloved horses. Essentially, all we’re really good for is to stand on the sidelines with our pom-poms, jumping around and offering moral support.
Horse News More PB Articles About:  colic,
Horse News More In This Category:  Care and Grooming      Horse News More From This Author:  Polo the Weirdo
Ugh... hate colic! Thank you for the very informative article. We live in the high desert of New Mexico & it is very sandy here too. At the old barn we were at, the water would get warm & stagnant. My mare Venus would not drink it at all & would end up colicky. This happened twice in the same month. So glad we are no longer at that barn & she has nice fresh water all the time.
  Sep 11, 2010  •  15,297 views
Great article Polo love! :) Its nice to see Choc healthy,happy, and back in action! :D
  Sep 11, 2010  •  15,214 views
Yeah some horses at my old barn had some sand ingestion problems cuz their hay was fed on the ground in the dirt so we got them feeders.
  Sep 11, 2010  •  15,216 views
about adding oil to there hard feeed. can we used any oil?
great article :) i really like these type of ones which help us out in looking after our horse
  Sep 11, 2010  •  15,245 views
Mystic Magic  
My horse Bear got colic really bad a few months back, not sure which type of colic it was but it was bad. He kept running around and just picking at his dinner and he kept lying down but not rolling. I got the vet out and she tried flushing him out with some water and paraffin oil and off she went and said if he is no better ring her back in a few hours, I ended up ringing her back and said I needed her out again, she said ok but then 5 minutes later she said to bring him to her as it was getting late in the day. He ended up staying at the vets for 5 days, every 4 hours she gave him a pain relief injection, she kept pulling out what poo she could she kept putting paraffin oil and water in him. So he finally came good and the blockage was pushed through and we could pick him up. He was a bit quiet for the next 2 days but after that he was all better. She said if it had been about 1 day more we would have had to operate or put him down and we didn't have the money to operate so we would
  Sep 11, 2010  •  15,313 views
A mare of mine recently died of sand colic... Thank you for posting this :) You may actually save a horse by helping the owner recognize the symptoms
  Sep 11, 2010  •  15,268 views
Polo the Weirdo  MOD 
Thanks everyone!

Halfbrokehorses - From my knowledge, Canola oil helps for digestion, and sunflower oil helps with the coat. I don't think it makes too much difference though. Any oil helps, simply because it is oily, but obviously each form of oil would help more with different aspects. You may want to do a little research to see which type would suit your needs best, otherwise I can look into it a bit more and perhaps write a follow-up article about it. :)
  Sep 12, 2010  •  15,195 views
Fox Crest Stables  
Colic is no mild thing and I wouldn't go so far as to say horses rarely need surgery for it as many who need the surgery die before they get there. I've personally had a horse die from sand colic.
  Sep 13, 2010  •  15,554 views
My horse had that from knocking over his feed bucket, we now have mats in his stall.
  28 days ago  •  15,218 views
Winniefield Park  
Some good advice and info here. I did an article on sand colic last year and interviewed a vet in the US who has studied it extensively. He said that performance horses, that are exercised frequently are less likely to get sand colic as the movement helps with gut motility and moving the sand along. Alternatively, you can take your horse for a bumpy trailer ride to get things moving. (This may help with other mild colics as well.) So if your horse is a pasture potato, it's more likely to get sand colic--one more reason to get riding!
  Jun 2, 2013  •  15,205 views
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