May 30, 2009 | | Comments 0

Sand Colic in Horses

Colic is still the single major cause of fatality among horses today. Previously, verminous colic, which is a result of attacks by worms and parasites, was the major form of colic. However, sand colic horses have become more prevalent. Sand colic is the outcome of the accumulation of sand in the intestinal tract of a horse. There can be up to 150 pounds of sand lingering in the lower portion of the horse’s belly.

Sand Colic in Horses

Sand Colic in Horses

What Happens Inside

What happens with sand colic horses is a painful process where sand is pushed to the lower part of the intestine, preventing blood from accessing the area. This results in the long term, low grade pain that can cause a horse to have problems with diet and eating habits. The “numbness” due to poor blood flow can result in problems with appetite and overall feeling of wellness.

Ultimately, the sand can accumulate until it entirely obstructs a loop of intestine. By this time, the horse begins to experience a lot of pain from the accumulation of hay and water in front of the obstruction. Once this pressure accumulates to a particular point, it either thrusts out the sand obstruction or tears the intestine due to the pressure. The intestinal burst is always deadly.

Specific Symptoms

All horses cannot avoid accidentally eating sand-it is everywhere and can easily build u over time. The sand oftentimes travels fast through the stomach and small intestine. Once the sand travels to the cecum and large colon, its movement decelerates and it is likely to settle to eh lowest parts of the large intestine as the result of gravity. If the horse only consumes tiny amounts, most will be easily moved through the large intestine without compromising effects. If the horse consumes large amounts of sad, however, the sand builds up in the large intestine. This build-up can result at a compromising stage where the horse starts to display apparent symptoms.

An affected horse may seem down and out with depression. It may be unable to gain weight for some reason, no matter what feed it consumes on a regular basis. It may lose its appetite to a certain extent, may pass watery stool and begin to lose weight suddenly.

In time the sand rubs against the intestinal mucosa and damages it. One of the large intestine’s purposes is to soak in water. Because of the build up and damage to the mucosal lining, water is not absorbed properly, causing in watery stool. This describes the probable reason why affected horses often lose weight and are unable to gain it properly. Nutrients are also “washed off” and not absorbed properly.


Sand colic horses can be easily treated if complications are not severe, but prevention is always key. It is often suggested that if your horse is likely to consume large amounts of sand or dirt, the initial action to take is to manage the consumption through some alterations. These alterations include feeding both grain and hay and only out of feeders. You may also use mats while feeding on the ground. Horses can eat sand when feed is on the ground, however, they also tend to take feed out of the feeder when the feeder feels too “enclosed” or crowded.

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Filed Under: Horse Health

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