Sand: More Concerns Than Colic

Sand colic, like other variations on the colic theme, can cause anything from mild discomfort to death.

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Perhaps the thought of sand conjures up images of tropical beaches, azure waters, and pure relaxation. But tie that word to colic and you have anything but an idyllic scene. Sand colic, like other variations on the colic theme, can cause anything from mild discomfort to death. Knowing what to look for, understanding treatment recommendations, and putting sound prevention strategies into practice can help keep your horse safe, and your visions of sand returning to paradise.

More Concerns Than Colic

Trouble starts when horses ingest sand or similar matter, including dirt, gravel, or decomposed granite. In general, they don’t gobble it down intentionally. Instead, they swallow dirt attached to grass roots when grazing or they might pick it up when looking for forage in dry lots or overgrazed pastures. Dirt can also mix in with feed when horses eat meals off the ground.

Typically, the sand (or other matter) passes through the horse’s stomach and small intestine fairly easily. In fact, a small amount of sand can pass through the entire digestive system and cause no harm. But, in cases that lead to colic, sand tends to settle in the right upper (dorsal) colon, says Diana M. Hassel, DVM, PhD, Dipl. AVCS, assistant professor of equine emergency surgery and critical care at Colorado State University. Often, the ventral portion of the colon is the accumulation point. Hassel says that’s probably because the sand weighs down the dorsal colon, displaces it, and it lies against the lower body wall.

As sand accumulates, it creates an obstruction in the digestive tract, disrupting normal gastrointestinal activity. Gas can build up behind the obstacle, causing distension and pain that can lead to muscle spasms and slow intestinal motility

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Written by:

Sushil Dulai Wenholz is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She’s written for a number of leading equine publications, and she has earned awards from the American Horse Publications and the Western Fairs Association.

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