Sand Colic

"Sandy and the Giant Slime Ball" refers to:

A. The sequel to "James and the Giant Peach"

B. The cleaned up version of "Sandy and the Giant Booger" (too much time around 12-year-old Boy Scouts)

C. The story of how I became covered with Metamucil, among other substances

The correct answer, I regret to say, is : Both B and C.    And now, the prologue…

The horse evolved (or was created, or some combination of both) to be constantly moving and constantly grazing.  His natural diet is grass, or a reasonable facsimile thereof.  It doesn’t have a super-high nutritional content, so he has to eat a lot of it.  Therefore he is constantly moving along to find more, and he gets a LOT of roughage.  If you want low fat and high fiber, grass is definitely the way to go, but you have to work at it to get enough to survive.  It takes five to ten acres of pasture per horse if he’s going to live on it.

Of course, if you want to be able to find your horse, and catch him and take a little ride, you’re probably going to put him in a smaller pen than ten acres.  If you live in an area where farm real estate commands a premium price to buy or rent, your horse is probably in a pretty small enclosure, because that’s all you can afford.  We call it a "dry lot" instead of a pasture because a pasture implies grass.  When you have a thousand pound animal constantly walking and eating, the grass goes away pretty fast.  What you’re left with here in our part of the country is nothing but sand.

Despite the fact that there is no pasture for your horse to roam and eat, he still has a desire and need to roam and eat constantly, and to take in lots of roughage  in order for his digestive system to work properly.  Hay is troublesome to acquire and bulky to store, so many horse-owners do not feed enough of it, with the horse’s nutrition relying heavily on grain (a high-energy concentrate, which is NOT the horse’s natural food).  Lack of excercise and inadequate roughage are frequent causes of colic (a non-specific term meaning "belly-ache" when we’re talking about horses).

In a small enclosure, the horse is also bored.  In a stall or small dry-lot, there’s not much intellectual stimulation, and no opportunity to run like the wind.  So, he needs to "do something" and he wants to eat constantly, but he finished breakfast a long time ago.  Some horses develop little nervous habits.  Some destroy their enclosure by chewing up the wood, in lieu of chewing up grass all day.  An occasional horse looks around and sees that there is a nearly unlimited supply of sand, which could correspond to his nearly unlimited desire to graze.  Fortunately, not many horses make this connection, as sand is NOT good for your gut.  Imagine applying sandpaper to your intestinal lining.  Okay, you can stop now.  I know that didn’t feel good.  Now imagine filling your intestine half full of sand from one end to the other.  Feeling a little full? 

When the sand gets to a certain level, the irritation often causes a severe diarrhea.  Abdominal pain can occur, and if it gets bad enough, sand ingestion can even be fatal.  Fortunately, it usually is pretty treatable.

First, the diagnosis.  Aside from colicky signs, plus or minus diarrhea, it’s pretty simple to put a handful of manure in a plastic bag, mix with water, and see how much sand settles to the bottom.  Zero sand would be normal.  Visible amounts of sand are always significant.  Since the horse’s gut contains bushels of volume, there has to be one heck of a lot of sand in the middle for you to see it coming out the back end.   Getting the sample is generally pretty easy:  you’ll find that most horses drop a pile as soon as you load them in a trailer. Sometimes you have to "go fishing".

Usually, if a horse has explosive, profuse, watery diarrhea, the owners mention that in the history… but not always.  Not long ago, I performed a rectal examination on a colicky horse as part of the diagnostic process.  Most of the time, even with diarrhea, the BM comes after you withdraw your arm.  My assistant came into our horse treatment area just as an explosion drenched me from shoulder to toe, but only on my right side.  All he could see was my  perfectly dry) left side from his angle of view, so the noise prompted him to ask, "Did you get any on you?"  I laughed hysterically to keep from crying hysterically.

Peanut the pony came in with colicky behavior and watery diarrhea, and sure enough his stool was full of sand.  The treatment consists of medicine to control pain and cramping, plus a generous (half pound) portion of Metamucil orally, which has to go via stomach tube since they feel too bad to eat or drink.  This stuff is a powder that forms a lubricating gel when mixed with water.  This gel picks up the sand as well as sliding it on through. 

Pumping it through a stomach tube requires a slapstick comedy routine.  One (or more) person restrains the horse, while one holds the stomach tube so it doesn’t back out.  Still another person mans the stomach pump, while yet another alternately pours water and powder into the bucket.  The person pumping stirs and pumps at the same time in order to get it through the tube before it turns into un-pumpable jello.   It is easy to make a mess during this process.  If you’re treating a tiny pony like Peanut, you have to use a tiny stomach tube.  That means you have to pump really fast.  On Peanut’s second treatment, I didn’t pump fast enough, and my smallest stomach tube became completely clogged with a six-foot long gelatinous plug (a giant booger, if you will).  We went up to the next bigger tube and finished the treatment, though a rather large amount of slippery goo managed to get in my pockets, shoes, and just all over.  Ponys are generally pretty poorly trained, and Peanut was happy to rear up on his hind legs and step on us while knocking over a bucket or two.   

He only knocked over the bucket, he didn’t "kick the bucket".  I became a giant slime-ball, and we changed his name to Sandy.  And now you know…the rest of the story.

2 thoughts on “Sand Colic

  1. Julie Saude says:

    I have a pony that has symptoms of sand colic. I treated him with a product for 7 days (sand clear-pellets). His manure was getting better but once I stopped the recommended treatment, his diarrhea came back. He isn’t colicky yet, but is aloof at times. If I nasal tube him with metamucil, how much water do I use? 1 gallon? He weighs approximately 850 lbs. Can someone help me with this?

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