What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Manure is Soft But Not Liquid, "Cow Pie" or Watery (in Adult)


Along with fermentation, digestion, and absorption of some nutrients, another important function of the equine large colon is to regulate the amount of water in the ingesta (a heavy, wet sludge of bacteria, protozoa, feed and water within the colon), usually by taking water back into the blood circulation from the this material.

The function of the small colon (the most downstream portion of the intestinal tract, and downstream from the large colon) is to dehydrate it further, making it into relatively dry fecal balls, and in so doing to minimize water loss.

It is normal for there to be some variation in the consistency of a horse's manure. Just because a horse has soft manure does not mean they are sick. Importantly, horses pass soft or watery manure during times when they are anxious or stressed. This is one reason horses tend to pass wet manure when loaded in the trailer, the stress of being loaded. A horse's manure may also soften as a result of a feed change, but in most cases should return to normal within a day or two.

A horse may also pass water after or alongside solid manure. Rather than the water being contained within the fecal balls, it is outside of it. One potential cause for this is long fiber length in the manure. This can result from poor grinding or the use of excessively fibrous, stalky forage like straw.

But soft manure can also be a result of poor function of the lower intestine (the colon), which can be caused by a variety of conditions. If this observation is coupled with other signs of illness (especially loss of appetite, depression or colic) or if your horse suddenly develops watery diarrhea, they may be suffering from a serious underlying problem and should be promptly examined by a vet.

Many owners put their horses on a probiotic to try to "fix" this. It's important to know that mildy soft manure is not necessarily bad in itself. The question is what is causing it.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If this seems mild or occasional and the horse seems normal otherwise.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Pay special attention to any change in attitude or appetite. Look for other signs, like weight loss or changes in appetite or attitude. Consider the consistency, smell and amount of manure.

Do your best to ensure that your horse is not accumulating sand, by assessing your soil type and feeding management. Float the manure for sand. Ensure quality, digestible hay/ forage. Take a photo of the manure and share that with your vet. Provide them a fecal sample for parasite testing.

Look for other signs of illness or abnormalities and share your findings with your vet.

If nothing else works, you can try probiotics or intestinal conditioners. Just keep in mind that these are for the most part unproven and may do little to help. Above all, keep in mind that soft manure without other signs of illness or disease may not be much cause for concern.

your vet's role

Depending on your findings and intensity of concern, your vet may advise you to take a "wait and see" approach, or recommend that they examine your horse. Vet examination focuses on ruling out of sand accumulation, assessment of general health. Careful assessment of management and feeding are often part of this examination.

Laboratory tests on manure and blood may be helpful to rule out some of the common causes of intestinal dysfunction. In some cases, diagnosis is not rewarding. At that point, depending on how much you want the horse to have normal manure, a variety of management and feeding changes, and treatments and supplements can be tried.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Is there a possibility that the horse is ingesting sand when eating his feed?
  • Does the horse have access to, or is it fed on sandy soil?
  • How is your horse's attitude and appetite?
  • What do you feed the horse?
  • Has your horse lost weight?
  • Does the horse have a history of episodes of colic?
  • When was the horse last dewormed and with what medication?
  • What is the horse's dental health history?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP