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  • January 11, 2024 4 min read

    Managing and Preventing Sand Colic in Horses

    Horses are natural foraging animals, and unfortunately due to this behaviour, they can ingest sand, which can lead to sand colic, a potentially life threatening condition. Sand colic occurs when horses consume sand or dirt along with their feed, which accumulates in their digestive tract and causes irritation, discomfort, and severe health issues. In this article we will explore the causes of sand colic, as well as strategies for managing and preventing sand colic in horses.

    Understanding Sand Colic

    1. Causes of Sand Ingestion:

    Horses are prone to ingesting sand primarily when they graze on sandy soils or when their feed is placed directly on the ground. Their natural feeding behavior involves picking up small bits of food along with dirt and sand particles. Over time, these particles accumulate in the gut.

    1. Effects of Sand Accumulation:

    When sand accumulates in a horse's digestive system, it can lead to irritation, inflammation, and impaction. The sand can also hinder the normal movement of food and waste through the gastrointestinal tract. This can cause a range of symptoms, from mild discomfort to severe colic.

    1. Risk Factors:

    Certain factors increase a horse's risk of ingesting sand, including grazing on sandy pastures, feeding on the ground, and consuming hay or feed that has been contaminated with sand.

    Recognizing Sand Colic Symptoms

    Before we delve into prevention strategies, it's crucial to be able to recognize the symptoms of sand colic:

    1. Colic Signs: Sand colic often manifests with signs of abdominal pain, such as pawing, rolling, and lying down excessively.
    2. Loss of Appetite: Horses with sand colic may show a sudden loss of appetite.
    3. Change in Bowel Movements: Look for diarrhea or watery feces mixed with sand.
    4. Lethargy: Affected horses may become lethargic and display signs of discomfort.
    5. Weight Loss: Long-term sand ingestion can lead to weight loss and overall poor body condition.

    Preventing Sand Colic

    Preventing sand colic is significantly more manageable than treating it. Here are some strategies to help you protect your horse from this condition:

    1. Provide Adequate Forage:

    Ensure your horse has access to clean, high-quality forage, such as grass or hay. Feeding them in a controlled environment where sand contamination is minimized is ideal. If your horse does not have access to pasture, or if pasture grass in dry, for example in summer, then provide your horse with a hay roll that they can access 24/7.

    1. Use Hay Nets or Feeders:

    Using hay nets or feeders can prevent your horse from consuming sand while eating. Hay nets lift hay off the ground, reducing the risk of sand ingestion.

    1. Feed in Buckets or Troughs:

    When offering a hard feed, use buckets or troughs rather than feeding on the ground. This minimizes the chances of your horse picking up sand along with their feed.

    1. Sand-Free Pastures:

    If possible, provide horses with access to pastures that have minimal sandy soil. You can also install gravel or concrete feeding areas to prevent sand contamination.

    1. Regular Feeding Schedules:

    Maintain consistent feeding times and portions to encourage proper digestion. Horses that are allowed to overeat may be more likely to ingest sand.

    1. Psyllium Supplements:

    Psyllium husk supplements can be an effective preventive measure. They help move sand through the digestive tract, reducing the risk of accumulation. There are a range of psyllium husk products that are available, and our best sellers include;

    • Sand Flush; and 
    • EAC InSandOut
    1. Regular Veterinary Check-Ups:

    Schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor your horse's overall health and to catch any potential sand colic issues early. Veterinarians can offer x-rays to determine sand accumulation, which may be a better option than a routine drench. If your horse has a large sand burden, then appropriate strategies can be determined with your vet.

    1. Monitor Fecal Output:

    Keep a close eye on your horse's feces. If you notice an increase in sand content, consider modifying your management practices.

    1. Gut Sounds and Colic Checks:

    Regularly listen to your horse's gut sounds and be vigilant for signs of colic. Early detection can make a significant difference in the outcome. Gut sounds can easily be heard with the ear if you place it on the horse's barrel. 

    1. Adequate Hydration:

    Ensure your horse has access to clean, fresh water at all times. Proper hydration supports healthy digestion and can help move sand through the gut. If you notice that your horse is not drinking, especially in summer, then offer flavoured water, or offer a salt lick to encourage drinking. 


    Sand colic is a serious health concern for horses, but with proper prevention strategies and attentive management, it can be avoided. Remember to provide a clean and controlled feeding environment, monitor your horse's health regularly, and be vigilant for signs of sand colic. If you suspect your horse may have ingested sand or is displaying colic symptoms, seek immediate veterinary assistance. By implementing these preventive measures and being proactive in your horse's care, you can help ensure their digestive health and overall well-being.

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