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  • Q:

    My vet and I are battling an issue with my 14-year-old Thoroughbred-cross gelding. The consistency of his manure seems firmer than normal, and he groans as he’s defecating. My vet has drenched him for tapeworms and told me to feed laxative feed and oil, which I have done, but there hasn’t been a significant change in two weeks. We are in mid-winter in New Zealand, and the horse is on full grass with a small concentrate meal once a day, complete with EquiShure, vegetable oil, and salt. He is a good drinker, so I believe he’s properly hydrated. Any suggestions?

  • A:

    Many horses moan and groan during defecation. Often there is nothing amiss with a horse’s health, but in other instances, there might be, so it is astute of you to contact both a veterinarian and a nutritionist.

    Winter pastures offer very little nutrition, so it's important to supplement with plenty of hay and chaff to make sure your gelding is getting enough roughage in his diet. For the average 1,100 lb (500-kg) horse, at least 1.5% of body weight in forage should be fed, so that's 17 lb (7.5 kg) of hay. Hay and chaff has the added bonus of creating waste heat in the hindgut as it is digested. Giving extra hay on really cold days will help him stay warm and assist in water storage in the hindgut.

    Changes in manure texture can sometimes reveal problems. Manure that is extremely dry could be an indication of insufficient water intake. Water sources should be checked to ensure that there is no limitation on intake. Water should be fresh and clean, and should be offered in a container or trough that is free of debris. Horses tend not to like water that is too cold, so if there is a way to heat the water slightly, that might help. To encourage more water consumption, you can add a sweetener or electrolyte to the water.

    Be sure there are no physical impediments to the water source, namely other horses. If your horse is turned out with pasturemates, there is a remote chance that more dominant horses might keep him from the water trough. If this is a possibility, add a second water source to the enclosure, far enough away from the other one to avoid interaction with other horses.

    Capillary refill is another way to check hydration status. To do this test, push his upper lip back to expose the upper gums. The gum tissue should be pink and moist, not too pale and definitely not a dark brick-red, blue, or purple color. Pushing a thumb against a section of gum and then removing the pressure will reveal a pale spot where the blood has been squeezed from the capillaries. If he is properly hydrated, the small blood vessels will refill quickly, usually within a second or two.

    Adding salt to the gelding’s ration every day is wise, though it might be good idea to add a salt block to his paddock to encourage more consumption.

    Increasing the horse’s concentrate to two meals per day may also help, as will dampening these meals with water. Horses are surprisingly agreeable when it comes to eating soaked feeds, and it’s a great way to get additional water into them. Continue feeding EquiShure (50 g two times a day), but be sure to add the EquiShure just before feeding. The additional EquiShure will help maintain a vigorous hindgut environment, stabilizing pH to ensure a healthy population of beneficial microbes and encouraging proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.

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