Impaction Colic In Horses: How to keep things flowing

I have a 10 year old Reg Tennessee Walker Mare. She has had impaction twice in the last 6 months. I was able to clear the impaction and she went back to being herself. However, friends have suggested feeding her Metamucil to keep things flowing. She has a large round bale of Coastal Bermuda hay, and I only feed grain every other day. I have a Paint mare and a QH/TWH cross gelding, and they are fine. I use a deworming schedule and rotate each time. Should I feed Metamucil every day? They are on sand, unfortunately I cannot seem to grow any grass. Could it be sand belly?

—CL, South Carolina

Dear CL,

I’m going to address your main question first which is: should I feed Metamucil® every day? Unfortunately, while Metamucil is a great source of fiber for people, it’s a mere drop in the bucket compared to the fiber that horses are already getting from their hay and pasture-based diets. It does not serve as a laxative in horses like it does in people and will not help “keep things flowing.”

Its active ingredient, psyllium, is used in horses to assist with fecal sand clearance, and has been shown to work even better in this capacity when combined with prebiotics and probiotics. However, it should be given daily for seven days in a row or one week per month as a purge rather than as a daily supplement. When given daily, experts believe the “good bugs” living in the horse’s hindgut learn to use this soluble carbohydrate as food, removing it from the large intestine and not allowing it to form the gel that carries out harmful sand. There are several products to select from in the Sand Colic category so check them out!

What else might help your mare? You said the “d” word, deworming, one of my favorite subjects! However, it sounds like you might be using the old-fashioned rotation system which has been replaced by the more modern method of working with your veterinarian to first identify whether your horse is a high or low shedder of worm eggs by fecal exam. Then, strategically deworm when your individual horse needs it based on season of the year, pasture density and maintenance, and other factors. Also, make sure you’re deworming once or twice a year for tapeworms as well as treating for encysted small strongyles with Panacur PowerPak or Quest — these could potentially be issues too.

Once your methods for purging sand and parasites are “up to snuff” if your mare still develops impaction colic, you may want to consider feeding her a different type of hay or feeding it a different way. Studies not only show that horses fed coastal Bermuda have an increased risk of impaction but also that feeding hay from round bales is associated with an increased risk of colic. As best you can in your area, you may need to seek out other types of grass hay such as timothy, orchardgrass or brome, or even a grass/alfalfa mix. And this mare may need to be fed flakes from a bale separately from the other horses, even going so far as to put them in a small hole hay net or other device to slow her rate of eating. Since you’re now separating her to eat, you may also want to consider adding digestive support to her diet to aid in maintaining a normal, healthy hindgut. Ingredients for hindgut health such as the already mentioned prebiotics and probiotics — as well as enzymes and yeast — could lend support to the bacteria living in her colon so that they don’t have to do all the work of digestion. Check out the wide variety of products available in the Digestion category. It’s not going to be easy, but hopefully one or more of these suggestions will help your mare!

Lydia F. Gray, DVM MA, currently serves as the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other locations. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association and enjoys training and showing her trakehner Newman in her spare time.   Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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