Horse Digestive System Problems

Information on equine digestive system problems and healthy digestion in horses.

learn about equine digestion and digestive system problems in horses

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  1. What are Horse Digestive Problems?
  2. What Causes Horse Digestive Problems?
  3. Diagnosing Horse Digestive Problems
  4. Help for Horse Digestive Problems
  5. More Information on Horse Digestive Problems

What are Horse Digestive Problems?

Horses frequently experience digestive problems which range from indigestion, gas, and heartburn to more severe conditions such as colic and gastric ulcers. These problems cause extreme discomfort and can have potentially severe consequences for your horse’s health.

What Causes Horse Digestive Problems?

Equine digestion problems develop as a result of ingesting toxic plants, foreign objects and toxic substances. Overeating, bacterial, viral and parasitic infections and even stress can cause great disturbance to the equine digestive tract. Although mild symptoms are treatable, preventative measures such as the correct feeding practices, exercise and regular veterinary consultations are essential.

There are several different types of digestive problems in horses and these include:

  • Colic
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Gastric ulcers
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Constipation
  • Gas

Diagnosing Horse Digestive Problems

The diagnoses of horse digestive problems are based on the symptoms, a thorough physical examination and review of the horse’s medical history. Diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count, urinalysis, x-rays and abdominal ultrasound may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.

The common symptoms and signs of digestive problems include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Rolling on the ground
  • Pawing, kicking or biting
  • Lying down
  • Sweating
  • Refusing to eat or drink
  • Loose stools
  • Weight loss
  • Overall weakness
  • Restlessness
  • Collapsing from pain

Help for Horse Digestive Problems

Treatment depends on the cause and type of digestive problem. Certain medications such as antibiotics, colic drenches, antacids, histamine type-2 antagonists or intravenous drips may also be prescribed to reduce symptoms.

Feeding practices and feeds are very important – feed your horse high quality hay and grains and incorporate omega fatty acids such as corn oil or rice bran oil to the diet to decrease acid production in the stomach. Ensure that your horse is de-wormed and his vaccinations are updated regularly.

More Information on Horse Digestive Problems

Tips to prevent digestive problems in horses

Horse owners can take certain precautions to support the digestive health of horses and prevent problems occurring and these include:

  • Feed your horse high quality feeds at regular intervals throughout the day
  • Make sure that feed rations are balanced to your horse’s nutritional requirements and avoid overfeeding him
  • Always ensure that your horse has access to fresh, clean water
  • Feed the daily feed according to the horse’s body weight, and not by the volume
  • Feed concentrates at least twice daily when needed
  • If your horse has a digestive upset, give his stomach a rest by withholding food for at least 24 hours and water for 12 hours – this will help to ease an irritated stomach
  • Monitor your horse carefully for any changes in appetite
  • Give a hot horse small quantities of water frequently after exercise
  • Avoid feeding a hot horse large amounts of grain or water – allow him to cool down first
  • Make changes to the feed rations gradually over several days
  • Avoid feeding the horse dusty, moldy hays or grains to prevent digestive and respiratory problems
  • Do not exercise your horse immediately after feeding – wait one hour for the meal to digest before engaging in any form of activity
  • De-worm your horse regularly to eliminate parasite infestation
  • Check your horse’s teeth and make sure that regular dental care is maintained – it is important that food is ground properly
  • Make sure that your horse’s vaccinations are updated regularly


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