Friday, April 13, 2012

Colonic Distress In Horses

Okay...I am resorting to providing links to some of the best articles I have used to figure all of this colonic stuff out. There is just no other way. For those of you who hate links...Sorry. But there is all weekend to peruse. ;-)

I'm off to a barrel racing this weekend. Keep your fingers crossed for Moon and I. I have been treating him with a bit of UlcerGard to prep him for the haul, got him trimmed up and shoes on and he is feeling quite froggy. :-) My horse is back!


As quick as veterinarians are to suggest endoscopy and expensive treatments for even mild cases of gastric ulcers, they are often slow to discuss or even acknowledge the possibility of hind-gut ulceration. Which to me is very odd, as the first indication most people have that a horse is having hind-gut issues is a bout of colic. And colic in horses is almost always an issue of the hind-gut. In rare instances, a horse can get a twist in the small intestine, which is considered part of the fore-gut, but necropsies still show significant damage to the hind-gut and the belief is that a non-functioning hind-gut was responsible for causing the small intestine to twist.

Okay, so all of this talk of fore-gut and hind-gut, what parts exactly are we talking about?

The fore-gut of a horse is, the mouth, the esophagus, the stomach and the small intestine. There seems to be a bit of confusion, on the part of some supplement companies about the small intestine. I have seen supplement companies refer to the small intestine as being part of the hind-gut...when in fact is is not. My guess is that the small intestine is often included in the hind-gut reference due to what it does...absorb nutrients. Which is similar to what the hind-gut does...BUT, there is actually a tremendous difference in what they do and how they function.

The hind-gut of a horse is, the cecum, large colon, small colon and anus.

There are individual parts to most of these organs...if you want to be really stomach has 3 levels, the small intestine has 3 parts, etc, etc. Certain parts are more prone to irritation/ulceration than others, but we'll ease into that.

This is an awesome article on the digestive system and give loads of info about how each organ functions...

Food Factory

Even in the absence of any sort of digestive issues or distress, I realized it's wise to learn what is absorbed, where in the system. So often we simply buy supplements and dump them into our horse's feed without really knowing or understanding how exactly our horse's systems are going to utilize them. If I learned nothing else from all this research, I figured out what was probably helping and what is likely a waste of money and effort. I have definitely made changes to my feeding/supplementation program.

Okay, so back to colonic distress...

While, gastric ulcers occur for pretty specific reasons and there is a multitude of produces to aid in prevention and/or cure them...colonic distress/ulceration is much more multifaceted. Even when the problem is diagnosed (as much as it can be due to the inability to visually see the problem), there is not much a veterinarian can prescribe to 'fix' them. In the rare case of infectious colitis, antibiotics are used. Outside of that, the only chemical treatment is the prescription of sucralfate.

Sucralfate For Veterinary Use

The only other way to deal with colonic distress/ulceration in horses is through diet. I'm not even going to kid you a little bit...there is a multitude of things that could be behind colonic distress. You may or may not ever learn what set it off initially, however, as you work through the dietary changes, you usually do figure out what has the propensity to set it off again. Colonic distress/ulceration can be a one time thing, due to certain events that have happened to a horse or they can be a re-occurring event...a symptom of an underlying condition.

I've got some far-reaching theories on this following subject, but I will save that to bore you with another day. For now, I prefer to have you think I am a sane and rational person. ;-)

Colonic Acidosis!

See, if nothing else, you get the chance to learn some nifty terminology that you can start throwing around when people think you are suffering from some sort of weird equine Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome. And you will most likely get some blank looks, rolled eyes and snorts of derision from people when you try to explain that you don't think your horse is 'right', but can't exactly pinpoint where or what the problem actually is, but think it may be associated with a hind-gut issue.

True colonic ulceration is a severe and dramatic ailment that leaves little doubt that a horse is suffering. However, that condition does not spontaneously erupt. Chances are a horse has been living in a state of colonic acidosis for quite some time and ulceration only developed due to a catalyst.

In the simplest terms, colonic acidosis is a condition where the pH level of the hind-gut (cecum and large colon) has been significantly reduced for an extended period of time. The optimum pH level of a horse's hind-gut is 6.5-7.0. The lower the pH level, the higher the acid level. On the converse side...a higher than optimal pH level means the system is dealing with an alkaline situation. High alkaline levels in the horse's system can also lead to problems. Some that resemble colonic distress due to high acid, but as the situation progresses symptoms change drastically. Things like loosing manes, tails and hooves are the result.

Where high acid (low pH) colonic issues are generally helped by allowing a horse to graze on green grass, high alkaline (high pH) poisoning usually occurs from the fresh grass. Most alkaline-based minerals have a tendency to 'leach out' in the drying process when hay is made, so alkaline poisoning from hay is unlikely.

The process of colonic acidosis is based around the amount of starches and sugars (from simple carbohydrates) that end up in the hind-gut (cecum and large colon). These organs were designed to process fibrous materials from roughage. Unlike the fore-gut, that produces a significant amount of digestive juices to aid digestion, the hind-gut produces NO gastric juice. Digestion is the sole responsibility of foreign organisms (microbes, bacteria and enzymes) that live in that portion of the horse's digestive system. Like most simple organisms, they have a narrow realm in which they can thrive, which is why the pH level (6.5-7.0) is so important. They are not so sensitive that they cannot survive regularly occurring spikes and drops in the pH level, but a long-term reduction will significantly inhibit their numbers, which leads to reduced digestion, which can lead to irritation of the intestine, which sets a horse up to be more sensitive to any change in circumstances that could act as a catalyst.

Here's a couple articles on what exactly happens to the hind-gut that can result in a state of colonic acidosis...

The relevant info is on the 1st page of this article, the rest of the article describes how the supplement they are selling can possibly help...

Subclinical Acidosis

This is a series of articles from another supplement company, however, the information is relevant. If you look on the right hand side of the page, the links to the entire series about ulcers is there.

Colonic Acidosis

Have a great weekend and we'll continue this next week. ;-)


Allenspark Lodge said...

Good studies, kiddo. Good luck on your runs; it's great to hear Moon is more himself. Are you really hauling to/in UT this weekend? You might be driving home in snow! Be careful.
Bionic Cowgirl

Sherry Sikstrom said...

wow! helluva good start, well written and informative .Looking forward to he next one

WishIHadAHorsey said...

Good luck with you and Moon!

Shirley said...

Go Moon Go!
Well written post, have you ever thought of a career in Equine Nutrition?

Anonymous said...

Great info and links.

I learned a great deal about the digestive system and it's problems at a seminar by ADM/Alliance Feeds, not the Horse Owner one but the Vets, Farriers, & Dealers one presented by Dr. Judy Reynolds.

Glad to hear moon is back to himself. Good Luck!

Cut-N-Jump said...

Lot's of great info there. Sucks that Moon had to go through so much so we can all learn from this.

Glad he is back to his solid self and good luck this weekend!

Paint Girl said...

Great info! My sister has been talking to me a lot about this because of her mare, and I know you have been really helping her out with this! She's been so stressed about it and really was feeling like she was out of options. Thank you for helping her through it!
Good luck with Moon this weekend! Can't wait to hear all about it!

in2paints said...

I've got a lot of reading to do, but this post was fantastic! :)

Good luck this weekend! I can't wait to hear how you and Moon kick butt!

Ranch Girl Diaries said...

Thanks BEC, as you know this is particularly interesting to me as my mare could be suffering from this. Looking forward to the next installment!