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How To Prevent Sand Colic
 By Winniefield Park   •   5th Oct 2013   •   8,192 views   •   0 comments
Preventing Sand Colic

A while ago, Polo the Weirdo wrote a great article on sand colic detailing the causes and how to identify a horse with sand colic. Colic, after all, can be caused by anything from a change in the weather to something catastrophic, like a telescoped or perforated intestine. Colics can be mild and fleeting or they can be devastatingly painful and fatal.

Polo the Weirdo Article: Sand Colic
Related Article: My Horse Dakota Put Down For Falling

Sand colic refers to the symptoms a horse may show when the sand load in the gut is a problem. It is also called sand enterocolopathy or gastric sand accumulation. Sand colic is more common where there is little grass covering the ground in pastures and paddocks. Places like the US West Coast, Arizona and other sandy areas see more sand colic than areas where pasture grows thick and lush.

So, sand colic differs from other colics in that it has a very specific and easily identifiable cause: sand load causing impaction or damage to the intestine. Sand not only causes impactions, but can also erode the intestinal walls leading to impaire food digestion, allow toxins in, or cause painful blood constrictions to some portions of the intestine. The weight of the sand can also cause a portion of the intestine to flip or twist, and may even cause the intestine to rupture. Damage can be done before you realize there's a problem. And that's why the horse can appear colicky, and the prevention is more important than the cure.

So we know why horses get sand colic, but what can we do about it? Well, as Polo pointed out, keep horses' feed off of the ground. That's a good start. But did you know that a pasture potato may be more susceptible to sand colic than say, Polo's eventers? Why? Because a good trot or canter helps the movement of digested food through the intestine. Several times a week, your horse should be going for a good trot or canter. A leading expert on sand colic I spoke to while researching the subject said, “The horses that don't have any sand in their intestines are performance horses — the ones that are working regularly. Even a brisk fifteen-minute trot will help clear the sand out.”

He also suggests that if you suspect your horse has a load of sand in its gut, a ride down a bumpy back road in a horse trailer can also help clear things out. A lot of us know what happens as soon as we put our horses on a trailer anyway, so a little shaking up might really help.

Several studies have shown that psyllium is not effective for removing sand from the gut, others seem to prove it is. Different horses seem to react to treatment in different ways. In one often cited study, twelve healthy pony geldings were tube fed sand and the amount in the manure was monitored. The control group was fed no pysllium, but the test group was fed a single dose of pysllium. After eleven days, necropsy showed little difference in the sand load between the ponies. Other studies have shown the opposite. Wheat bran, however, has been proven ineffective.

If the sand load becomes great, surgery may be the only option. This is costly and hard on your horse. By the time surgery is needed, irreparable damage may already be done. The old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure means applies here. It only takes small adjustments to your horse's feed and exercise routine, but may be well worth it when it comes to sand colic prevention.


Image Credit: © Irina Yeskina | Dreamstime.com
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