Sand Colic Review Finds Correction Caveats

Sand's heavy, abrasive nature makes it worth specific investigation when it comes to impaction in the equine intestine, according to a group of Israeli researchers who conducted a 12-year review of horses undergoing surgery to relieve sand colic.

The study, recently published in the Australian Veterinary Journal, showed that 95% of the horses recovering from sand colic surgery survived the first two weeks following intervention, and that 100% of those survivors were still alive a year later. However, post-operative diarrhea was much more common in these horses, compared to horses recovering from feed impaction colic. Researchers postulate this is because the sand had irritated the colon walls. Furthermore, horses with sand colic were at a greater risk for intestinal tears due to the weight of their load.

Sand in pony intestine

Radiograph showing sand collected in pony's intestine.

"Careful manipulation during surgery is required of any colic repair, but a colon that is filled with sand can weigh dozens of pounds, much more than a colon filled with feed," said study author Amir Steinman, DVM, PhD, head of the Large Animal Medicine and Surgery Department at Koret School of Veterinary Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "The handling of the sand-filled colon requires even more attention."

The study also showed a statistically significant correlation between a high respiratory rate and a poor prognosis for survival. "Respiratory rate is a measure of pain," Steinman said. "It reflects the degree to which the horse is affected, so the earlier the operation, the better the outcome." However, he noted, this is not unique to sand colic.

Horses develop sand colic by ingesting sand that accumulates in the intestines and causes impactions, frequently in several locations. Feeding horses away from sandy areas and with sand-free hay helps reduce this risk, as does providing constant access to a salt block so that the horses are not tempted to seek minerals directly in the sand, Steinman said. In high-risk cases, he added, bulk-forming fiber laxatives can be given every 30 to 60 days as a prophylactic.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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