Horses will naturally pick up small amounts of dirt when grazing on the sandy soils of Western Australia. The sand usually moves through the gastrointestinal tract of your horse with other feed materials and may cause no issues.

A large accumulation of sand, on the other hand, can cause significant issues that are detrimental the health of your horse. This usually occurs when horses are fed hay directly off sandy ground or tip their feed bin over into the dirt. Poor management practices such as these can lead to horses ingesting a significant amount of sand.

Sand has two main properties which account for the clinical signs of sand accumulation.

  1. Sand is heavy – it settles to the bottom of the large colon, pulling the colon downwards. It can act as a pendulum, predisposing the colon to “swing” and become displaced. Sand can also form a “plug” at anatomically narrow parts of the colon (eg. pelvic flexure). This can cause a ‘back-log’ of feed material and gas, which is unable to pass through the colon normally, due to this “plug” of sand. This, in turn, leads to abdominal pain
  2. Sand is abrasive – one of the functions of the lining of the large colon is to absorb water. When sand accumulates, it is churned back and forth through normal intestinal motility and it damages the lining the colon. Water is therefor not absorbed as efficiently and this irritating effect can lead to intermittent diarrhoea.

Some common signs that your horse has a significant accumulation of sand includes :

  • intermittent diarrhoea
  • weight loss
  • intermittent colic (signs of colic include : poor appetite, laying down, rolling, “flank-watching”, sweating pawing, stretching out as if to urinate). Colic is an emergency and you should contact your veterinarian asap. Read more about the Top 10 Do’s and Dont’s of Colic. 

Continue to read HOW-TO : Test  your horse for sand