Sand colic is a specific type of colic seen in horses that live in a sandy environment. It accounts for about 5% of all colics seen. Sand colic presents with symptoms similar to any generic colic, such as inappetence, pawing, rolling, looking or kicking at the stomach, distress and unease, and dehydration. One sign that is more specific for sand colic is diarrhea. The sand likes to settle in the large colon1, where it causes irritation and pain.
Any equid can pick up sand from the environment. They get it from grazing on sandy pastures, that are often overgrazed by too many horses. Any location with sand is a risk, including if you feed in an arena. They best way to avoid or decrease the risk of your horse ingesting sand is to feed from a rubber tub on the ground for both the hay and the grain. Rubber mats are also an option. This minimizes their exposure to sand and another small particles from the ground. You can also feed from low-hanging hay nets or low mangers.
The way to test for how much sand your horse has is his gut is simple. Take 6 fresh fecal balls that haven’t had contact with the ground and place them in a quart of water in a bucket or bag of some sort. Mix the contents and let sit for 15 minutes. If more than a teaspoon of sand accumulates, your horse is potentially ingesting a dangerous amount of sand1.
There are not a lot of ways to remove the sand, aside from colic surgery. Psyllium is a feed additive that can help move some sand through the gut and out into the feces. If you decide to start adding psyllium, be sure to follow the label instructions for feeding, as it is also a laxative. One veterinarian recommends feeding one to two cups of psyllium per 1,000 pounds of horse daily for a week, every four to five weeks. Alternatively, psyllium can be fed one day a week, every week2. Feeding it every day does not seem to be as effective in clearing the sand from the gut.
If you ever notice signs of colic in your horse, immediately contact your veterinarian. I recommend testing your horses to see how much sand they have in their feces, and then considering adding psyllium to their diet.
Written by: Dr. Morgan Bosch