How to Treat Diarrhea in Horses

Diarrhea can be a common health issue with horses. Many cases are going to be mild in nature and can be handled at home with some common treatments. To eliminate the issue completely, however, the cause of the diarrhea must also be addressed while treating the symptoms the horse is experiencing.

This guide will discuss how to treat diarrhea in horses that is mild in nature. If your horse is showing any sign of dehydration, then you should contact your veterinarian to establish a treatment plan. If your horse is experiencing any of the following symptoms, then you should immediately contact your veterinarian as it may be a health emergency.

  • Bloody diarrhea.
  • Diarrhea that is profusely watery.
  • Fever that is present with the diarrhea.
  • Sudden lack of appetite.

If a foal develops diarrhea, you should not attempt to treat the symptoms on your own. Contact your veterinarian for assistance in that matter.

Dealing with the Frustration of Diarrhea

Humans and other animals often deal with diarrhea when it seems like there is no good cause to be experiencing it. Not only is it frustrating because it causes frequent bowel movements, but it can also be a big headache for a horse owner. In warm weather, diarrhea attracts many more flies to the horse. In cold weather, it can seem impossible to keep a horse dry and clean when this issue strikes.

To determine how you should treat the diarrhea, you must first look to determine if this is an acute case or more symptomatic of chronic diarrhea. If a horse is experiencing chronic diarrhea, then dehydration and nutrient drainage are almost certain to occur.

The treatment process always begins with some basic care practices. You will need to consistently clean the hind quarters of the horse thoroughly. This includes the hind legs. It is also a good idea to braid the tail during times of diarrhea so that the longer hairs stay out of the bowel fluid. Horses may also develop itchy and irritated skin due to the diarrhea, so applying some diaper rash cream, petroleum jelly, or a similar product can be helpful.

What Is Causing the Diarrhea in the Horse?

Parasites tend to be the most common cause of diarrhea in horses. The diarrhea is an indication that you’ll need to change your deworming protocols. The parasite loads can affect foals just as it can adults, so each horse must be evaluated if parasites are suspected as the cause.

Various viruses may also cause diarrhea. Some are preventable through vaccines, but rotaviral treatments are not part of the core vaccine protocol. You may need to contact your veterinarian for vaccinations if a virus is suspected as the cause.

Foal-heat diarrhea is also quite common. If a mare goes into heat while nursing a foal, then the foal is likely to have diarrhea or loose manure. This will typically resolve once the mare moves out of heat or the foal is switched to a different food supply.

Dietary changes can also cause temporary diarrhea. A horse eating more grain than normal will commonly experience diarrhea. A lush pasture that’s enjoyed for the first time may also be a diarrhea trigger. If you can cut back on the grain or the pasture time, then you may be able to avoid taking further steps to treat the issue.

Taking the First Steps to Stopping Diarrhea

Once you have completed your basic care practices, you’re ready to begin dealing with the potential digestive issues that could be causing the diarrhea. You’ll want to cut back on the amount of grain that you’re feeding the horse, but keep the hay or roughage consistent. The only exception to this rule would be horses which are eating alfalfa – in that case, a switch to regular grass hay is usually suggested.

Horses experiencing diarrhea should also have access to a large quantity of fresh water. This will help the animal be able to combat the issue of dehydration on their own.

You’ll need to separate the horse experiencing the diarrhea from the other animals in your care. Although it may be unlikely, the diarrhea may contain a contagious disease that you do not want spreading to the other horses. Separation will also allow you to better monitor the amount of water that the horse is drinking.

Checking for signs of dehydration is critically important during these first steps of treatment. Check the skin by gently pinching it at the neck. If dehydration is occurring, then the skin will stay puckered where the pinch occurred. Horses that are well-hydrated will have the skin immediately flatten out.

The gums of the horse should also look pink and feel moist to the touch. Touching the gum should have it turn a whiter color and then have it restore back to its regular pink color. This should happen in only a couple of seconds. If it takes longer, then there is a good chance the horse is experiencing dehydration.

Onto the Second Stage of Diarrhea Treatment for Horses

Now that the feed and water has been sorted and the affected horse has been isolated, you’re ready to begin addressing the physical symptoms that diarrhea may cause. Mild cases of diarrhea often respond well to a bismuth subsalicylate liquid. It’s the same stuff that you’ll find in products like Pepto Bismol and its generic counterparts and it is safe to give to a horse.

Most horses will need to take about 5 ounces of a bismuth subsalicylate liquid at a time. That’s the equivalent of about 10 tablespoons. You won’t want to give more than that at any given time. You can then give the horse this medicine up to four times per day if the diarrhea continues to stay mild.

The easiest way to give the horse this liquid is through a plastic dosage syringe.

Because bismuth subsalicylate can bind a horse, you’ll want to continue monitoring the manure output the horse happens to have. Impaction can happen in a short amount of time, even when the horse was just experiencing diarrhea. Don’t turn out the horse into a large pasture after giving it this treatment.

If the bismuth subsalicylate is working, then wean the horse off of the medicine over a day or two and continue to monitor the manure output. If not, then you can try some of these additional treatment methods.

  • Live culture yogurt. The probiotics in the yogurt can help to restore the internal bacteria balance for the horse and reduce the issue of diarrhea.
  • Bio-Sponge. This product resembles clay and helps to soak up the extra liquid that can form the diarrhea issue in the first place. It can also bind some of the triggering bacteria so it is expelled. Most veterinarians recommend using this product under direct professional supervision.
  • Psyllium. This treatment can give a horse the quick fix it may need, but overdosing on it will cause the horse’s digestive system to adapt to the increased fiber and not provide any help. If the increase in fiber is immediate, however, it tends to correct the issue rapidly.

Third Stage Treatments Which May Be Necessary

If a bacterial infection is the cause of a horse’s diarrhea, then after an examination, your veterinarian may recommend that an antibiotic treatment series be started. Because antibiotics alter the natural bacteria in the digestive tract of a horse, additional treatments beyond the medication may also be required.

Some horses may be prescribed pain medication for chronic issues, such as an NSAID. These are also known to cause diarrhea. The benefits of the medication may outweigh the issue of the loose manure in the mind of the veterinarian, so a consultation may be necessary to determine what the appropriate treatment plan should be.

There are diarrhea issues that are contagious. Salmonella exposure tends to be the most common, but Potomac Horse Fever is also something that may need to be considered. Isolate the horse, turn off the lights at night to avoid attracting insects, and take all proper cleaning and care measures to prevent the contagion from spreading.

This means you will need to scrub the feed and water buckets for the horse that is ill at least once per day. Wear gloves and wash your hands with warm, soapy water afterward. Use a hand sanitizer if soapy water is not available and then thoroughly wash your hands at your first opportunity.

Diarrhea can be a frustrating health issue, but it is also one that can often be treated at home. From diet changes to alterations in the parasitic load to everything else in-between, knowing how to treat diarrhea in horses means recognizing the trigger, treating the symptoms, and preventing dehydration by checking for it multiple times per day.

If you have any questions about the care of your horse or is experiencing other symptoms not mentioned in this guide, then consult with your veterinarian immediately. This way your horse can have the diarrhea treated effectively, no matter what the cause of it happens to be.