By Monique Warren
Sand colic is digestive upset resulting from the accumulation of ingested sand and dirt. It occurs when particles sink to the bottom of the intestines where abrasion irritates the intestinal lining and causes discomfort. Sand Colic is estimated to be responsible for approximately 30% of colic cases.
Read on to learn the most effective means for removal and the best way to prevent the accumulation of sand.
How Sand Accumulates In the Digestive Tract
Horses, donkeys and mules ingest sand as they eat from the ground or graze short pastures. Scrounging for tiny bits of hay or grain further increases the sand-to-forage ratio exponentially - accelerating the accumulation of sand. Further exasperation of sand accumulation can be experienced if there are periods of time without feedstuff traveling through the digestive tract. Without ingesta (substances taken into the body as nourishment; food and drink) to mix with and carry the sand particles out , gravity forces the sand to settle in the bottom of the intestines.
Sand Colic Severity
(Surprisingly Simple) Prevention & Cure - Hay
According to studies at the University of Florida, hay is overwhelmingly the most effective way to move sand from the digestive tract and prevent accumulation.
The University of Florida tested four means of sand removal:
The results indicated that feeding hay at 2.5% of body weight (25 lbs. for a 1000 lb. horse) uniformly produced the largest sand output.
Free choice hay (whether slow fed or loose) supplies a steady supply of fiber moving through the digestive tract carrying sand out with manure prior to settling in the large colon by promoting gut motility and volume.
Considering the volume of ingesta, sufficient amounts of hay provide:
Prior to the University of Florida’s study, the standard protocol for sand removal was feeding psyllium (a mucilaginous substance). Psyllium absorbs liquids from the intestines and swells as it moves through the digestive tract.
However, a study conducted at the University of Illinois over an 11 day period found that ponies dosed with psyllium in an attempt to remove sand were no more efficient at sand removal than ponies given a control diet. The study's conclusion: psyllium mucilloid had no apparent effect on sand evacuation from the equine large intestine.
Given the short period of time (11 days) the results may not 1) represent the effectiveness of psyllium fed over a longer period of time or 2) consider smaller volumes of ingested sand. The University of Florida’s study does, however, show sufficient hay alone is more effective than psyllium.
How to Minimize Sand/Dirt Ingestion
As Nature Intended
Horses are designed to graze/forage 16-20 hours a day - ingesting small amounts as they move from place to place. It is possible to mimic the horse's natural lifestyle – to allow free choice forage and slow consumption (if necessary) - while encouraging movement. This scenario compliments their digestive tract - providing optimum conditions for a very complex, vast and sensitive route of ingesta from intake to excretion.
About the Author:
Monique Warren invented the Hay Pillow® slow feeder and is the owner of Hay Pillow Inc.
Warren has been an equine guardian for over forty years and slow-feed advocate for over 10 years. She contributes equine nutrition and digestive and hoof health articles to publications such as The Naturally Healthy Horse, Natural Horse Magazine, Horse Back Magazine, The Horse's Hoof, and Miniature Horse World Magazine. Equine nutrition and horses feet are her passions. She resides in Southern California.
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