Diarrhea In Horses: Frequently Asked Questions

In horses, diarrhea is a symptom of a wide variety of different problems and maladies. What causes this condition and what can you do about it? In this article, we present some of the most common questions regarding equine diarrhea along with answers to those questions. Read on to learn more.

What Causes Diarrhea In Horses?

What causes diarrhea in horses

This problem can be a symptom of a wide variety of circumstances and situations ranging from ingestion of something that doesn’t agree with the animal to parasite infestation to cut injury or infection. Some common causes include:

  • Excessive use of anti-inflammatory medications or antibiotics
  • Ingestion of toxic plants
  • Salmonella infection
  • Bowel inflammation
  • Cancerous growth
  • Parasite infestation
  • Sand colic

2. How Can You Prevent Development Of Diarrhea?

Be sure to feed a high quality, appropriate and consistent diet. Maintain your pasture well to avoid problems with toxic weeds. Talk with your vet about establishing a consistent and ongoing parasite control program. Maintain a regular daily schedule that your horses can depend upon to avoid stress.

3. Can Severe Diarrhea In Horses Be Cured?

Can severe diarrhea in horses be cured

If your horse has chronic diarrhea, it can be very difficult to cure it but you can often manage it. Consult with your vet frequently to be sure that you are giving your horse the right diet. Strive to keep your horse’s life stress-free as stress often contributes to this condition.

4. How Does Stress Cause Diarrhea In Horses?

Horses who are stressed by severe weather, long transportation, surgical procedures and associated anesthesia and/or something as simple as disruption in daily routine may suffer stress that leads to complications such as dehydration.

This can quickly spiral into more complicated conditions such as toxemia and colitis. Just as nervousness and anxiety can disrupt our normal bathroom habits, horses’ digestion and elimination can also be disrupted by these unusual and anxiety producing circumstances.

5. What Are Some Common Diet Related Causes Of Diarrhea?

Feed that is too rich or that is intended for species other than equines (e.g. cattle feed) can easily cause diarrhea in horses. Additionally, if pasture is very rich, it can cause these problems. Pasture that consists of a high percentage of potentially toxic weeds will also lead to problems.

6. What Are The Symptoms Of Equine Diarrhea?

What are the symptoms of equine diarrhea

If your horse is only experiencing mild diarrhea, you may not notice it for a while. For example, if your horse is out on pasture and you are not paying close attention, this sort of mild symptoms can slip past you. Take care to watch for fecal staining beneath your horse’s tail and on his or her back legs. Other symptoms of mild diarrhea to watch for include:

  • Fluid accumulation in the legs and belly
  • Loud noises in the gut
  • High temperature
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sluggishness
  • Dehydration

If the problem goes unnoticed and untreated for a long time, you’re likely to see extreme lethargy, unexplained weight loss and a generally unkempt appearance including rough hair coat and dull eyes.

7. Is Diarrhea In Horses Always Serious?

The seriousness of this condition varies depending upon the cause. Another important factor to consider is the age of the horse in question. Adult horses are much better equipped to deal with this malady than are foals. This because in adults the condition usually only affects the cecum and the large bowel. In foals, it affects the entire intestinal tract and can have very severe consequences.

8. Does Equine Diarrhea Always Need Medical Treatment?

In adult horses, diarrhea is very often just a normal reaction to a temporary imbalance in the digestive system. A horse’s large intestines contain lots of different types of friendly fauna. If the balance of the normal bacteria in the digestive system is disrupted, diarrhea can result. Consistent habits and feeding can help prevent this problem.

9. When Is It Appropriate To Call The Vet?

Does equine diarrhea always need medical treatment

If diarrhea persists for more than a day or two and/or your horse exhibits symptoms of pain, depression, dehydration or any other unusual behavior and signs, you should call your vet. Especially be on the lookout for problems such as congestion and irritation around the eyes and mouth. This could be an indication of poisoning.

10. How Does Your Vet Diagnose Diarrhea?

Because there can be so many different causes of this problem, your vet will need to begin by performing a complete physical examination of your horse. He or she will look for the signs and symptoms listed above and will probably also take fecal samples and blood samples to help determine the exact cause of your horse’s problem. If your vet thinks that the problem is caused by inflammatory bowel disease, he or she may also take an intestinal biopsy and perform abdominal ultrasound testing.

11. How Can You Treat Diarrhea In Horses?

How can you treat diarrhea in horses

There are as many treatments as there are causes, and as we have seen, these are many and varied. Generally speaking, if your horse is suffering from acute diarrhea, your vet may recommend electrolyte therapy. This works by rehydrating your horse and restoring the fluids that he or she has lost.

If the problem is caused by parasite infestation, you will need to perform regular deworming to eradicate the pests.

If the problem is caused by inflammatory bowel syndrome or bacterial infection, your vet will probably treat with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. As noted, these types of medications can also cause diarrhea, so this is a very tricky balancing act.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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