Colic is any pain in the abdomen. Sand colic is pain specifically caused by a build-up of sand in the large colon. Signs of sand colic can be the same as any other kind of colic: pawing, looking at the belly, lying down and getting up, rolling, not eating or drinking, not passing manure, sweating, depression, and elevated heart and respiratory rates. Some horses with sand colic develop diarrhea because the sand rubs the lining of the GI tract, causing inflammation.
Call a veterinarian right away if a horse shows any of the signs listed above. Most sand colics respond to medical treatment alone, which consists of pain relievers, fluids to hydrate the horse, and laxatives such as psyllium to help move the sand out of the GI tract. If the horse does not improve, surgery may be necessary.
Anyone keeping a horse on sandy ground needs to take special precautions to help prevent this particular form of colic. Hay should not be fed on the ground but rather on mats or elevated feeders with mats underneath them. Horses should only be allowed to graze pastures with solid plant growth, and they should be turned out after feeding so they are not as hungry. Psyllium may be added to the diet to help prevent the build-up of sand in the colon, and appears to work better when combined with pre- and probiotics.
Read more about colic and digestive health in our Equine Colic article.