Sand in the Gut

Sand in the Gut

Whinny’s Wisdoms

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

Hello again, fellow horse enthusiasts! It’s Whinny, your trusty and knowledgeable mouse guide to equine education. I’m here to provide you with some insights about managing sand colics. As a Florida mouse, I’ve heard a whole lot about sand and its propensity to cause GI upset in those giant, delicate horse guts, and I’ve recently scurried through the veterinary literature to gather more information for you. 

Sand accumulation in the equine large colon can be as pesky as a mischievous mouse stealing crumbs. Sand gets in the equine large colon when horses graze on sandy pastures or consume feed or hay from the ground. Over time, this sand can build up in the colon, leading to potential digestive issues. The Docs here have seen colons holding as much as 50 pounds of sand! Horses with sand accumulation can have a range from no symptoms, to diarrhea, to colic symptoms. 

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

We’ve all heard the best way to manage sand is to feed psyllium for 7 days once a month. Turns out psyllium is key, but the one week once monthly version doesn’t work. Don’t fret! There are treatments! First let’s learn more about how psyllium and magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) work in the gut. 

Psyllium, derived from the Plantago ovata plant, is like a fiber superhero, swooping in to promote smooth digestion. It has a high water-holding capacity and acts as a bulk laxative, promoting the movement of ingested material through the digestive tract. Magnesium sulphate, also known as Epsom salt, has osmotic properties. When administered orally or via nasogastric intubation, it draws water into the intestines, increasing fluid volume and facilitating intestinal motility.

The combination of psyllium and magnesium sulphate seems to have a synergistic effect in clearing sand accumulations. Psyllium’s bulk-forming properties help bind the sand particles, while magnesium sulphate’s osmotic effect aids in softening the feces and promoting their passage along the gastrointestinal tract. To get enough of it into the equine GI tract it has to be administered via a nasogastric tube. Studies found daily treatments for three consecutive days were key to clearing sand. 

How’s a mouse to know if there’s sand in there? Many of you have put poop in water in a clear bag to see if sand settled to the bottom. Bad news: that only shows that sand is moving. There can be an entire beach-load of sand in there and that plastic bag test will come up clean. The same studies looking at treatments found x-rays of the abdomen were the best for finding sand, and ultrasound could also be used to look at intestinal wall thickness and motility which can be affected by sand. 

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, and that’s true for sand as well! In fact, it may be the best “treatment” available. Providing horses with a clean and sand-free environment is crucial. Feeding hay in feeders or elevated platforms can help minimize sand ingestion. Feeding hay and grain over large rubber mats can also reduce sand intake. Making sure your horse has plenty of hay in their diet will help them move daily sand accumulations along. All horses should get a minimum of 2% of their body weight in roughage every day! 

And don’t forget, your veterinarian is like a wise old mouse, ready to guide you on the best path for your beloved horses. They’ll create a personalized plan to keep those horses healthy, happy, and prancing like little mice on a mission!

I hope these additional tidbits have shed some light on the topic of sand accumulations in horses and the use of psyllium and magnesium sulphate as a treatment option. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask. Until next time, stay curious and keep your equine friends happy and healthy!

~ Whinny

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Whinny’s Wisdoms is the official blog of Whinny the Clinic Mouse at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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More Adventures of the Horse Doctor's Husband
Dry Weather and Colic

Dry Weather and Colic

Tuesdays with Tony

This weather sucks. I know you’re shocked to get my honest opinion, but as a cat I feel I owe it to my adoring fans to be true to my nature, and my nature doesn’t like this weather. It’s true that I also don’t like rainy days, but I do like rain often enough that the grass doesn’t prick my paws as I walk around the Clinic property ensuring all is as it should be in my kingdom. The horses aren’t loving it either, but they have different reasons. 


Bits of grass, and lots of sand


Out in the pasture right now there are tiny bits of grass hanging on for dear life, just hoping for something resembling rain. The best we’ve gotten lately are some really foggy mornings. Those tiny bits of grass are looking really, really tasty to your horse. When your horse goes to grab that tiniest morsel of green goodness, they also pull up the roots. Those sad roots have nothing to hold onto right now, and give up the fight easily. With the roots comes sand, and you should know sand is less than ideal for the equine GI tract. If you don’t, you need to evaluate your reading habits because you aren’t reading my blog often enough. Right now horses are spending all their time looking hard for those tiny morsels, which means lots of sand is going in their GI tracts. It also means some green stuff (weeds) that isn’t grass looks better now than it normally would. 

Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic

A Rain Dance would be nice


Sure, a rain dance would be nice, but in the meantime what’s a horse owner to do to try to help their horses make good decisions? HaHa! Horses never make good decisions. Just kidding (sort of). Anyway, real help. Look at your pasture set up to see if you can rotate the heck out of your pastures. Using the plastic step-in T-posts and electric tape is an easy way to block off areas of pasture to let them recuperate. Give pastures at least 10 days, and 14 days if possible, before putting horses back on them. While you won’t grow amazing grass this way, you will keep things at a tolerable level. If you can’t block off pastures, consider putting hay out. Now we normally talk about this at the first freeze, but with no grass, now’s a good time to start with hay. To avoid unscheduled visits from one of my Docs, be sure to slowly increase the amount of hay you’re putting out over 7-10 days. Don’t put a roll of coastal out until they are walking away from flakes, and be sure to add ½-1 flake of alfalfa or peanut hay daily to their diets. If you really want to minimize the risk of colic from hay, go with alfalfa or orchard/alfalfa pasture bales. Lots of horses can’t eat these without packing on the pounds, and for those coastal hay is a great option. 


Other ways to avoid Unscheduled Visits


This drought has been very noticeable for one thing around the Clinic: more colics. Let me tell you what my Docs don’t want to see you for: A Colic. They don’t like them any more than you do!!! Here’s my step-by-step process to avoid unscheduled visits thanks to the dreaded C word:

  1. Give your horse at least ½ flake peanut or alfalfa hay daily. One flake would be even better. These hays are high in natural salt content so they get your horse to head to the water trough, and they both have a natural laxative effect to help prevent impactions.
  2. Add water to your horse’s grain. This is the easiest way to get horses to “drink” more water. The soupier the better! It’s all added hydration.
  3. Be aware of how much sand they can consume. If you live on a sandy property, your horse is eating tons of it right now. If you don’t live on a sandy property, your horse is eating some right now. Feeding lots and lots of hay is the best way to move sand through the system! If in doubt, add in one of the sand clearing products for one week out of every month to really clean the pipes. My Docs can also x-ray or ultrasound for sand to help you have an idea how much sand is in there. 

We are all holding out hope for a lovely rainy week or two, but until that comes, I hope the cat wisdom helps you keep the colic away!

Now be a good human: 1. Scroll down a tiny bit farther 2. Subscribe to my blog 3. Never miss a bit of Tony wisdom.  It’s good stuff!

Until next week,


Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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Sand Colic

Sand Colic

Tuesdays with Tony

When you think of sand, what images come to mind? Probably pleasant visages of laying on a sandy beach getting a tan, or your kids playing outside in the sandbox as you enjoy a cold glass of lemonade, or feeling the sand squish beneath your toes as the waves tickle your ankles along the shore. Well, when veterinarians think of sand, they think of colic. Sand is not associated with happy times for those of us in the equine medical profession. And this cat is here to tell you why.

Why is sand bad?

      Here in Florida, we have no shortage of sand in our soil. When horses run out of grass to eat, or when the grass gets very short, they begin to accidentally ingest sand as they forage. Eventually, this sand settles in the large intestine and accumulates until it forms a partial or complete GI obstruction.
       You’ve seen kids build sandcastles. Have you noticed how remarkably well they stand up until the bully from the next umbrella over comes by and kicks them down? That’s because sand has an excellent ability to hold the shape of whatever vessel it is molded into. In the case of horses, that vessel is the large intestine.
       In some cases, if enough sand is ingested to block the whole diameter of the intestine, the sand will compact and become as hard as a rock. Again, a lesson in why sand makes a great building material. Unfortunately, it also makes a very uncomfortable and impacted horse.

How does my horse accumulate sand?

      Sand is usually picked up as horses graze, or as they search for food where there is no grass. Sand can also be ingested if they are fed on the ground, as they prehend their pellets of grain or stems of hay. If your horse is a messy eater, he may also drop a fair bit of grain onto the sand as he eats, and then scoop up mouthfuls of sand as he tries to pick up every last crumb.
      The esophagus, stomach, and small intestine generally have enough peristalsis (that’s a fancy medical term for muscle contractions) to move sand along. However, once the sand gets to the large intestine, it tends to just sit there. The large intestine is huge and actually kinda square. So, as sand enters the large intestine it generally settles flat on the bottom, taking the shape of the folds and turns of the colon, as all the other ingesta and intestinal content floats along above it, unawares.
      This location serves as a dumping ground for sand, and this sand accumulation can continue without any external signs for months to years. Eventually, however, there comes a point when your horse begins to notice something’s not right. Depending on how stoic your horse is, some time thereafter he will begin trying to tell you that something’s not right. Usually, this happens in the form of colic.

How can sand colic be treated?

    So, your horse is colicking. You can’t think of anything different in your feeding program or routine recently to explain why. He’s laying down, not interested in eating, but also not thrashing around in terrible pain. You call me at the office, and I send out my first available doctor to check him out.
     Doc assesses the situation, performs a physical exam, gives him some pain medication and sedation, and then begins her trans-rectal palpation. That’s where she finds the first clue: his manure is kinda gritty. She grabs a handful of manure, puts it in a rectal sleeve with some water, and hangs it up on a nail. That’s weird, you think to yourself. But then again, you humans do weird things all the time, so you’re probably used to it.
Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic
      Doc also mentions that she felt a soft but full large intestine on one side, with a lot of gas-distended intestine on the other side. She begins to ask you about what he eats, where he eats, and she takes a look at your pasture. She also asks you if you give your horses Sand Clear on a regular basis.
      Now, back to that rectal sleeve of poop. You glance over to it and notice that it has changed…the fingers of the glove are completely filled with sand! How could that much sand even exist in one small handful of manure?! The rest of the organic material from the fecal ball is floating on top of the water. It’s magic!
     At this point, doc is dumping a bag of some grey powder into a bucket and mixing it with ooey gooey mineral oil. You ask what it is, and she tells you the powder is called Psyllium, a pure form of fiber that is going to form a gel with the mineral oil and carry that sand out of the large intestine where it’s been hiding unbeknownst to you for quite some time. She will pass a nasogastric tube down to his stomach and pump in this magical goo once a day for the next 4 days. And just like that, sand problem gone. Ta-da!

How can sand colic be avoided?

     While colic is the most common way owners learn their horse has been accumulating sand, an emergency visit from your vet is not how you want to find out your horse has been snacking at the sandbar. Not to mention, several days of farm calls, tubing with psyllium, and worrying, is not much fun for your horse or your wallet. So instead, why not follow these couple of Tony Tips to nip sand in the bud?
    1. Focus on your pastures. Figure out a way to fertilize, rotate grazing, plant grass seed, irrigate your pastures, or otherwise work on getting some grass to grow! If your horses have long, healthy grass to eat, they are far less likely to pick up sand, because they won’t be grubbing for dead roots in the dirt.
     2. Feed your horses off the ground. Ideally, hay should be fed in a hanging hay net, hay manger, or hay feeder. Grain should be fed in elevated feed buckets with mats underneath for the crumbs that are dropped. This simple step can drastically decrease the amount of sand your horse ingests every day.
     3. Give your horses SandClear once a day for one week every month. If you know your property is sandy, or you don’t have the best pasture situation around, this is a great idea. SandClear is a pelleted form of psyllium that is designed as a feed-through. While it won’t fix a complete sand obstruction, it can help to carry small amounts of sand out of the intestine so it doesn’t build up and turn into a bigger problem.
   So now, thanks to the one and only Tony, you know everything you ever needed to know about sand and horses. I guess that’s one less thing to worry about!
Until next week,
P.S. If you need my Docs during Hurricane Dorian, call 352-474-5007. They’ll be on call 24/7, just like always.

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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Sand Colic

Sand Colic

Tuesdays with Tony

Ahh, Florida. The rest of the world is sure it’s all sun, surf, and sand. They’ve got 2 out 3 right, and according to Meatloaf that ain’t bad. Where am I going with this? To the sand. For reasons I don’t understand, horses feel it’s appropriate to eat sand. This can, obviously, lead to problems. This week, we’re going to talk about those problems. More importantly, we’re going to talk about how to be smarter than your horse so that you can avoid these problems. I have faith you humans can do it. I’m not asking you to be smarter than a cat. That would be impossible.


How do I know they have sand?


Many of you have likely heard of the Ziploc bag test. I’m sure this is a use Ziploc did not envision for their handy plastic bags. This test involves grabbing a few fecal balls from a fresh, clean pile, adding water, sealing the bag (very, very important step), and shaking. Let the bag sit for a few minutes, and see if there’s sand in the bottom. There will be sand. After all, we do live in Florida. The question is how much sand is there? If there’s ¼ sand or less to ¾ poop in your sand-to-poop ratio, congratulations your horse is moving sand out of the gut. That word ‘moving’ is important. That’s the limitation of this test. It is moderately useful, but it only tells us that sand is moving out of the gut. You see, horses are sneaky. They also like to have a gut full of sand that’s just sitting there doing nothing! That sand won’t show up on the Ziploc test.


Behold! The awesomeness of x-rays and ultrasound! If my Docs have a sand suspicion, but no sand on the baggie test, they pull out the big guns. They will start with the ultrasound. My Docs will put an ultrasound probe right on the middle of the bottom of the abdomen. If there’s sand, they will see a colon with no ridges. Those ridges are what they call sacculations of the large colon. These sacculations are what allow the colon to expand with gas and food, then shrink down as it empties. Sand, however, fills all that up. Sometimes, it can be a little tough to decide on ultrasound thanks to gas. Ultrasound can’t see through gas, so if your horse has a lot of it, and horses often do have a lot of gas, the Docs will switch to x-ray. They shoot an x-ray through the bottom of the abdomen, and get an image that looks like this:

Getting Rid of Sand


Great, you’ve now identified that your horse has sand in the belly. How do you get rid of it? If there’s lots of it, my Docs will tube your horse with a combination of psyllium (basically Metamucil), Epsom salts, and mineral oil. The psyllium and Epsom salts work to grab the sand, pick it up, and move it out of the gi tract. The mineral oil works to protect the walls of the GI tract from all that abrasion as the sand moves. You can just imagine how abrasive that can be…..go ahead, imagine. Usually one treatment clears the sand, but sometimes it takes more than one. Rarely, my Docs have to bring one of these guys into the clinic for IV fluids along with the Epsom salts, and psyllium. I will say it is very impressive when they start passing sand. There’s nothing like sand, psyllium, Espom salt diarrhea to really make a mess out of stall!

Springhill Equine

Even better, keep sand out


“On ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” was never more true than sand and horses. The number one key is hay. Yep, hay, and lots of it. As far as horses are concerned, this is the key to preventing lots of things. For sand, hay acts like a vacuum. As all that roughage travels through the GI tract, it sucks up the sand, and sends it out the back end safely. If you’ve paid any attention to my blogs, or the awesome seminars my minions have, you know that the minimum amount of hay a horse should eat is 1-2% of their body weight daily. That’s 12-24 pounds for the average horse every day. Live on a sand hill? Stay closer to that 24 pound number!


Minimizing the amount of sand that goes in will also help. Feeding hay from slow feed hay nets, or off clean rubber mats can help reduce sand consumption. Keeping your fields from being overgrazed can also help. When horses are seeking out the small amounts of grass in an otherwise sandy field, they will eat way, way more sand. Bringing horses into a stall for grain meals can also reduce the amount of time they spend snuffling through sand to get that very last pellet they dropped. (Total shameless plug for our ‘How To Handle Your S#!t Seminar’ this Thursday at the Clinic, to help you keep those fields in good shape.)


With a little strategy, you can avoid those pesky unscheduled calls with my Docs for a sand colic. And I know how much you humans enjoy a good unscheduled visit. Think your horse might have sand? Call the Clinic to schedule an x-ray or ultrasound to see what’s inside!


Now be a good human and subscribe to my blog. That way you can get all my awesomeness a day before everyone else.

Until next week,

~ Tony

Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at, or follow us on Facebook!

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