Diarrhea Prevention in Hospitalized Horses a Delicate Bacterial Balance

Diarrhea acquired while staying in a hospital, termed nosocomial diarrhea, is an unfortunate risk when hospitalizing a horse, but there are steps owners and veterinarians can take to help prevent disease.

There are many reasons why horses get diarrhea while in the hospital, including infectious pathogens, diet changes, medication, exposure to sick animals, and stress, said Ann M. Chapman, DVM, MS, of Louisiana State University, who recently reviewed the issue for Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice.

A delicate balance of beneficial bacteria populates the colon and keeps it healthy. When horses are hospitalized, diet changes and some medications might alter the mix of beneficial bacteria, allowing potentially harmful bacteria to overpopulate and cause diarrhea.

If a horse is hospitalized, the owner should bring some of the horse's normal feed to avoid abrupt diet changes that might disrupt the colon's bacteria.

The veterinarian tries to minimize the horse's stay to reduce stress and its exposure to hospital pathogens. In addition, equine hospitals keep sick and healthy horses in different wards to reduce the spread of infection.

Hospital staffs follow strict measures to protect the animals. They wash their hands frequently; wear protective clothing, footwear and latex gloves when handling infectious or potentially infectious patients; and use footbaths to remove germs from shoes.

"Antibiotics are of particular importance," she said. "In some cases, horses are discharged from the hospital on a course of antibiotic therapy. Owners need to be vigilant when their horse is receiving these medications, monitoring their horses closely and watching for early signs of impending diarrhea. Any change in appetite, attitude, water consumption, or fecal consistency should be immediately brought to the attention of the veterinarian."

Stress might also play a role, because it might affect the immune system's ability to fight off infection.

The review article, "Acute diarrhea in hospitalized horses," was published in the August issue of the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice. The abstract is available on PubMed.  

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More