The Scoop on Runny Poop: Diarrhea in Horses

While some types of diarrhea in horses present little to worry about if watched carefully, others can be life-threatening. Read more about this condition’s causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
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The Scoop on Runny Poop: Diarrhea in Horses
Severe diarrhea cases require supportive care, such as administering intravenous fluids to rehydrate horses. | Photo: Courtesy Chris Tully/Rood and Riddle

Be it due to toxins, infectious agents, or simply diet changes, diarrhea in horses is no laughing matter.

It’’s a nasty, messy bodily (dys)function. And while it might be the source of little boys’ hysterical laughter and the stuff of snickers even among adults, it’s no joke to horse owners. Diarrhea occurs when the intestine doesn’t absorb electrolytes and water normally, instead allowing them to pass out of the body in loose or watery stools. It can be acute or chronic.

While some types of equine diarrhea present little to worry about if watched carefully, others can be life-threatening.

“In humans, diarrhea is generally benign,” says Rose Nolen-Walston, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (LAIM), associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. “But horses have a rather delicate large intestine that has a very minutely balanced flora of bacteria, and something that disrupts that balance can cause diarrhea even without a particular pathogenic (disease-causing) bug being there. We call that colonic dysbiosis

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Diane Rice earned her bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin, then married her education with her lifelong passion for horses by working in editorial positions at Appaloosa Journal for 12 years. She has also served on the American Horse Publications’ board of directors. She now freelances in writing, editing, and proofreading. She lives in Middleton, Idaho, and spends her spare time gardening, reading, serving in her church, and spending time with her daughters, their families, and a myriad of her own and other people’s pets.

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