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Equine Health Resource

Colic, Sand Accumulation or Impaction

Synonyms: Sand Colic

Sand accumulation or impaction is a common diagnosis for horses living in sandy environments, and show signs of abdominal pain (colic), and/or have diarrhea.

Over time, ingested sand settles to the bottom of the intestine and accumulates there. The rate of accumulation exceeds the rate of passage. Over time, a large quantity of sand (up to 100 lbs+ in some cases) can accumulate inside a horse’s intestine, resulting in pain and discomfort and, in some cases, blockage. Often horses don’t show obvious signs until they have a large accumulation and blockage.

Whether a horse accumulates sand in their colon depends on grit size. Larger grit accumulates within the colon whereas smaller grit and clay soils move through the intestine and are expelled in the manure. Some horses in a group may have more of a tendency to accumulate sand than others because of habit or physiology.

Diagnosis is made by veterinary exam. Sometimes sand can be heard in the intestine with a stethoscope. It makes a very specific sound, often likened by veterinarians to water running over beach sand. It can also often be found using a sand sediment test of manure.

Abdominal radiography is a highly effective means of diagnosing sand in the equine abdomen. The sand lights up brightly as the x-ray beam cannot penetrate it. Unfortunately, most radiography systems are not sufficiently powerful to penetrate the abdomen of a horse.

Mild cases may be managed with stoppage of sand intake, pain relievers, laxatives and monitoring, whereas severe cases may require intensive care and even colic surgery.

Prognosis & Relevant Factors

The prognosis for sand accumulation/impaction depends on a variety of factors. The prognosis is good for mild sand accumulations.

The prognosis is much worse for severe impactions, when the colon is completely obstructed with feed and sand. Once a horse is completely obstructed, they usually require intense medical treatment at a minimum, and some require surgery.

QUESTIONS TO ASK MY VET

  • What management changes should I make to prevent sand accumulation in my horses?
  • What psyllium supplement do you recommend?
  • PREVENTION

    Carefully evaluate all areas where you feed your horse, or where your horse grazes. Know your soil type.

    If your horse is stabled on sandy ground, it is important to make every effort to minimize sand accumulation.

    Feed in a tub, rather than off the ground, and place mats around the feeder. Horses will toss hay out of the feeder onto the ground.

    If you feed on or around sandy soils, feed a psyllium supplement per your vet's or the manufacturer's recommendation.

    Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

    Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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