Monitoring Sand Colic With Radiographs

Ingestion of sand is an unfortunate consequence of vigorous grazing on sandy soil. The equine digestive tract can handle a certain amount of sand without difficulty, but too much sand can lead to impaction and colic. Medical treatments, including psyllium powder, magnesium sulfate, and mineral oil, can be effective at clearing sand, but might require several weeks to work. Recently a study was conducted at the University of Helsinki in Finland to assess the usefulness of radiography for monitoring changing amounts of sand in the large colon during this treatment period.

Fourteen horses and foals with signs of acute or chronic colic and radiographic evidence of sand accumulation were started on a regimen of psyllium, magnesium sulfate, and/or mineral oil. Abdominal
radiographs were taken to monitor the clearance of sand over time. The results indicated that radiographs were indeed effective in monitoring the resolution of sand accumulation in these horses. Interestingly, the initial amount of sand in each horse was not predictive of the outcome of treatment. In four of the horses, large accumulations of sand were cleared within two to four days of treatment, while other horses with less sand took much longer. In addition, it was discovered that complete removal of sand was not necessary for clinical improvement in all horses.

So, while it remains difficult to predict how sand accumulation will affect each individual horse, it is evident that radiography is helpful for monitoring the effectiveness of medical treatment for sand removal.

Equine Veterinary Journal, 33(1), 59-64, 2001.

About the Author

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD, is a free-lance writer in the biomedical sciences. She practiced veterinary medicine in North Carolina before accepting a fellowship to pursue a PhD in physiology at North Carolina State University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

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