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Equine Health Resource

Oral Fluids by Stomach Tube, Generally



The adult equine stomach is small, having an average capacity of 3-4 gallons. Oral fluids are often used as a first attempt to provide hydration. However, vets are very careful not to overfill the stomach, which can cause injury. In treating abdominal pain (colic), oral fluids and electrolytes are commonly given in combination with water and mineral oil, to a horse through a nasogastric tube (intubation).

Oral fluids have a relatively small hydrating role, unless they are given repeatedly. That said, there should be evidence of better hydration within an hour. Distention of the stomach causes improved gut sounds within a few minutes via stimulation of the gastrocolic reflex.

There are several commonly used oral fluids and preparations used to treat horses. What is used depends upon the horse’s diagnosed condition and vet’s preference and custom. Plain water may be used, mineral oil, electrolyte preparations and other laxatives like magnesium sulfate.

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

Over filling the stomach can cause fatal rupture. Death can result if the tube is passed into the lungs instead of the stomach and fluids or mineral oil are introduced.

Sometimes a horse with colic will temporarily become more painful after the stomach is filled with fluid.

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Fluids are not introduced to the stomach if an impaction or obstruction is suspected. This could worsen the problem.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

After administration of oral fluids by stomach tube, increased gut motility is usually noticed within a few minutes.

Horses that are obstructed may immediately show signs of pain. The invigorated intestinal movements push against a solid mass, which increases stretch on the intestinal wall, causing pain.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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