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What is Sand Colic?

Sand colic is a relatively common occurrence for horses, resulting in around 5% of all colic cases. Identifying what the cause of your horse’s colic is may be difficult, as sand colic mimics and appears to present similarly to any other type of colic although diarrhea is a specific symptom of sand colic versus other types of colic. 

Your horse may present with symptoms of discomfort, irritation and distension of the stomach. The sandier a location your horse grazes in, the more susceptible he will be to possibly developing sand colic. Treatment methods for this condition can range from laxatives to surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

Sand colic occurs when your horse ingests sand when eating. Ingestion of sand can result in problems in his GI tract and abdomen. The issues result from the accumulation of sand in your horse’s stomach which can lead to impaction.

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Symptoms of Sand Colic in Horses

  • Pawing
  • Rolling – This can indicate colic, if your horse violently rolls or does this repeatedly 
  • Bloating – There may be a visible distension of his stomach where his stomach is irritated, his intestines are blocked or twisted 
  • Sweating
  • Distress – Such as curling of his upper lip
  • Uneasiness – If you find that your horse is continuously laying down and getting back up, this could be a sign of discomfort
  • Loss of appetite – You may notice your horse has no interest in food or drink 
  • Peculiar postures
  • Lack of sounds in his stomach – Due to obstruction and/or twisting of your horse’s intestines, there may not be typical sounds when his stomach is listened to 
  • Biting and looking at his stomach 
  • Diarrhea – This sign is typically unique to sand colic and is caused by both the accumulation of sand resulting in a loss of nutrient absorption and the irritation of your horse’s intestinal lining

Causes of Sand Colic in Horses

The cause of your horse developing sand colic will be discussed in detail below.

  • His age – Young horses tend to not care as much as their older counterparts about what they are eating/ingesting 
  • His grazing location – If he is eating in an area where there is a lot of sand, he is at risk of ingesting large amounts 
  • His being fed off the ground – If your horse eats spilled feed off the ground, for example, he is at an increased risk of ingesting sand 
  • His housing – A sand floor in the stall
  • Intestinal blockage – Once the sand begins to accumulate in your horse’s stomach his intestines may begin to twist and change direction

Diagnosis of Sand Colic in Horses

If you suspect your horse may be suffering from sand colic, there may be a few ways you can test it at home first. You can evaluate his grazing and paddock area to determine if there is a possibility that your horse is ingesting sand via these means. You can perform a test on his feces as well.

This test involves taking 6 balls of feces and placing it in a quart of water. Stir and let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Upon the time being up, check to see if there is any sand at the bottom of the container. If there is at least 1 teaspoon or more of sand, he may be ingesting a large amount of sand. 

This is not an all-inclusive test however, just because there is no sand does not mean he has not ingested sand. Having your horse to be seen by his veterinarian will be vitally important. 

To determine your horse’s colic cause, the veterinarian may request to perform an X-ray. The X-ray will allow the veterinarian to see any obstructions in smaller horses. In larger horses, ultrasounds may be used. Your veterinarian may listen to your horse’s stomach as well for the movement of the sand, however if he has too much sand in his stomach the movement may not occur as it normally should.

Treatment of Sand Colic in Horses

There are two typical treatment options once your horse has been diagnosed with sand colic. The veterinarian may suggest psyllium is fiber, which forms a gel when it comes into contact with water. It is believed to help the sand move along your horse’s digestive tract and exit his body. This is dissolved in your water and given to him via a tube. This method may need to be repeated several times a day for several days. 

The second option is to use laxatives or lubricants as directed by your veterinarian. This helps to soften up the material in your horse’s stomach and allow it to move easier. Your horse may also need IV fluids due to dehydration and pain relief as needed. In serious cases, whereby the sand has formed an impaction, surgery may be needed to remove the blockage.

Recovery of Sand Colic in Horses

It may take your horse a few days to return to his normal state. Your veterinarian will discuss with you follow up appointment as necessary. It has been identified that prevention is the best method of management for your horse. 

To help your horse avoid ingesting large amounts of sand you can implement some tactics. One method is to put a rubber mat under the feeder where your horse eats. Use feeders to avoid contamination with the sand on the ground. 

Providing your horse with psyllium for a week out of every month can also help to prevent sand colic and checking his feces on a regular basis for any sand accumulation. If your horse remains eating in the same areas and is ingesting sand again, he will be at a risk of continuing to develop sand colic.