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Diarrhea is defined as an increase in the frequency, volume or fluid content of stools. There can be two forms of diarrhea – acute and chronic. Acute diarrhea in a horse can be very serious and should be treated as an emergency. Diarrhea that lasts more than two weeks is considered chronic and can have many causes, such as:
It is generally thought that diarrhea in horses is a result of malfunction in the colon or hindgut. Therefore, supplements that contain ingredients intended to support healthy hindgut function may be helpful, including:
In addition to a complete physical examination and bloodwork, your veterinarian may perform a number of fecal examinations, including culturing for bacteria, counting parasite eggs and looking for the presence of sand. Additional tests such as rectal palpation, abdominal ultrasound, “belly tap” and others may be performed. Absorption tests and intestinal biopsies may also be helpful but are more difficult and costly to perform.
If a specific cause for the diarrhea can be identified, such as parasites or bacteria, then appropriate treatment can be given, such as dewormers or antibiotics. However, many times treatment for chronic diarrhea is simply supportive in nature: keeping the horse hydrated, replacing nutrients that may be lost in the stool, and controlling pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) are occasionally used for these purposes.
Your veterinarian may recommend changes to your horse’s diet if he or she feels the hay and/or grain you are currently feeding are contributing to the diarrhea.