What is Constipation?
In horse terminology colic means abdominal pain, therefore, constipation can lead to a form of colic. These terms can sometimes be used interchangeably so it can be slightly confusing. Constipation is exactly what you are thinking though, where your horse is unable to pass proper amounts of manure or may not be able to pass any at all. In addition to not having proper bowel movements, he may also have an unthrifty, poor looking coat since he is unable to digest his food properly and get the nutrients he needs from it.
Depending on the severity of your horse’s constipation, he may respond well to a laxative and recover very smoothly. However, if he needs a more invasive treatment such as surgical correction, recovery will be more guarded and he will need more nursing care. Preventing constipation in your horse is the ideal situation.
Constipation in horses can become a very serious situation if you do not treat it promptly. If you notice your horse experiencing abdominal pain, contact your veterinarian.
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Symptoms of Constipation in Horses
Symptoms of constipation can vary in each case. Symptoms may include:
- Hard, dry manure
- Effort to pass manure
- Manure covered in mucous
- No manure production
- Unthrifty coat appearance
- Rough, dry coat
- Exercise intolerance
- Lying down
- Repeated looking at side or digestive region
Constipation can affect any age of horse but is most commonly seen in older horses. Constipation is when the horse passes very small amounts of firm, dry manure. In some cases, manure may be covered in mucous when passed. It can also cause your horse to have a poor appearance since he is unable to digest his food and nutrients properly.
Causes of Constipation in Horses
Constipation in your horse can be caused by multiple things. Some of the leading causes include poor dental care, improper digestion, and parasitic infection. If your horse has dental issues, he may be unable to properly grind down his food to a size good for digestion. This also ties in with improper digestion from the food being too large or even from a possible illness affecting his gastrointestinal system. As for parasitic infections, the intestinal parasites can cause damage to your horse’s gastrointestinal tract leading to improper absorption of nutrients from his diet.
Diagnosis of Constipation in Horses
Your veterinarian will have a good idea if your horse is suffering from constipation from clinical symptoms alone. The dry or mucous covered manure is specific to constipation or blockage as well as the extended effort to pass manure without production. The symptoms of abdominal pain, such as rolling, pawing, looking at his side, can be indicative of other gastrointestinal problems.
If your horse is only displaying the vague symptoms of abdominal upset, the veterinarian will want to perform further diagnostics. She will mentally divide his gut into four regions and auscultate each region individually. In horses, each region should make a specific number of borborygmus noises, also known as rumbling and gurgling, as food moves through the digestive system. If the sounds are abnormal or absent, there is obviously a problem.
The veterinarian may also want to perform an ultrasound or radiograph for further diagnostic evaluation of his gastrointestinal system. She may even want to perform routine blood work to ensure your horse is not suffering from anything else. A complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panel will give her the information she needs for complete evaluation.
Treatment of Constipation in Horses
For treatment, the veterinarian may suggest multiple therapies to treat the condition as a whole. For the pain your horse may be experiencing, she will recommend an analgesic. To soften the impaction, she may recommend administering mineral oil or another type of laxative. She may also suggest you walk your horse to encourage motility of the GI system. Also, allowing him to graze on fresh grass may help stimulate GI motility and encourage a bowel movement.
You horse may need to receive fluid therapy if he is dehydrated, either orally or intravenously. In the most severe cases, your horse may need abdominal surgery for removal of the impaction and will need to be transported to an equine hospital able to provide this service. Tests may be repeated after initial treatment in order to assess how he is responding.
Recovery of Constipation in Horses
Often, a case where a horse is experiencing abdominal pain may resolve on its own. However, if toxins get into the bloodstream or abdominal cavity, recovery will take longer than the average case. Also, if he has to undergo surgery, he will need to be monitored for post-surgical complications.
Prevention of constipation in your horse is ideal. This will involve proper dental care and a balanced diet, two things your veterinarian can help you with if needed. Keep in mind every horse’s needs are different so it may take a couple tries to get his diet perfect, but it will be the best thing for him.