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Home:Equine Diseases:Diarrhoea

Equine Diseases - Diarrhoea




Equine Diarrhoea is a very common condition which can affect horses of any age and breed. It is present when there is increased frequency of bowel movements in the form of large amounts of soft loose droppings, or coloured liquid, causing loss of fluids from the horse's body.

If the diarrhea is mild, the problem will most likely resolve itself.

If the diarrhea is severe, your horse could quickly become dehydrated and lose up to 10 gallons (approx 40 litres) of water and electrolytes in a day. Treatment is required. Rapid dehydration, caused by severe diarrhoea is very serious and could lead to many dangerous complications.

More serious forms of diarrhoea such as Colitis X can cause inflammation of the gut and subject your horse to severe trauma pain and distress.


There are many causes of equine diarrhoea. It can be difficult to pinpoint a specific cause, and repeated tests by your veterinary surgeon may be required. However, some or all of the following symptoms are usually present.

  • The production of large amounts of faeces that are softer than normal
  • Softer than normal bowel movements at much too frequent intervals
  • Faeces resembling “cow-pats”
  • Faeces resembling coloured liquid
  • Offensive smell (normal equine faeces do not smell)
  • Faeces produced in liquid form in a projectile manner
  • Scalding on the back legs caused by liquid diarrhea running down the hind legs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Condition Loss
  • Oedema (accumulation of fluid) under the belly and on the lower limbs.
  • Dehydration - manifested by
    • sunken eyes
    • skin tenting – skin does not spring back when pinched
    • reduced urine output
    • dry mucous membranes


    There are many causes of equine diarrhea and they may be very elusive. It may not be possible for the vet to tell why a horse is suffering simply from a clinical examination – samples often have to be taken to ensure a correct diagnosis. However, some of the following causes may be helpful.

    • Diet – some grains, lush pastures or too much food concentrate can cause imbalance in the large intestine resulting in equine diarrhoea
    • Stress - some horses get mild diarrhoea when travelling and competing due to nervous stimulation of the intestinal system
    • Parasites/Worms - commonly associated with diarrhoea,
    • Infection - bacteria, such as Salmonella and Clostridium can cause severe diarrhoea
    • Antibiotics – prolonged use of antibiotics can disrupt the normal healthy bacteria in the bowel and produce diarrhoea
    • Peritonitis – inflammatory bowel disease
    • Allergy – reaction to certain medications, including 'bute'
    • Raised temperature

      Any form of diarrhoea in a foal is a serious situation and you should contact your vet straight away for treatment.

      Due to the many different causes of equine diarrhoea, there are many different ways your vet may choose to treat it.

      Firstly , i t is very important, in all except the very mildest of cases of equine diarrhea, to consult your vet to make sure the necessary treatment is undertaken and to ensure that more serious underlying conditions are identified.

      Your vet may want to take blood, faecal or abdominal fluid samples or perform a rectal examination. The results of all this will determine the type of treatment your horse needs. This range is varied

      - medication – drugs to control toxins, antibiotics or a charcoal drench

      •  hospitalisation – if diarrhea is very severe, for fluid therapy and more intensive electrolyte therapy

      •  Stabilisation of the horse's body fluids. This usually requires the use of huge volumes of intravenous drips - some horses may require up 10 gallons of fluid just to replace the fluid lost from the diarrhoea

      •  If salmonella is the culprit, vaccination may be used

      •  Probiotics are often useful to try and encourage the growth of healthy gut flora.

      You can do quite a lot yourself to treat the symptoms of equine diarrhea.

      - If making dietary changes, try to introduce them slowly over a period of time.

      •  Feed good hay but no lush grass.

      •  Try to encourage your horse to drink plenty of fluids

      •  Stable your horse and try to keep it away from other horses in case of contagion.

      •  Avoid feeding concentrates

      •  Keep a keen eye on the horse's temperature

      •  Ensure a good worming routine

      •  Clean your horse's dock area and buttocks. The use of petroleum jelly on these areas will help soothe and reduce skin damage.

      •  Apply a bandage to the tail to help to keep it clean.

      Some owners are keen on herbal and homeopathic remedies such as

      •  slippery elm to help protect the bowel lining

      •  aloe vera, to helps calm inflammation.

      •  Ayurvedic formulae which contain a variety of herbs and help to slow bowel movement

      •  grapefruit seed extract liquid -according to some research, it is effective at killing off those bacteria that are causing the problem, while leaving beneficial bacteria largely untouched.

      You should check with your vet before using any of the above.