In our previous blog we discussed how pH can be used to objectively indicate an unhappy gut. This month our focus is on what is known as a sedimentation or faecal sand test. This can help us to identify if our horses are ingesting dirt and sand which can be damaging to the digestive tract.
As a grazing and browsing animal, it is not surprising that our horses may pick up dirt, sand, and indigestible content as part of their daily routine. Some horses however are at more risk of this dirt accumulating and causing problems such as impaction and colic. Management practices which may increase the risk of dirt/sand ingestion include:
Turnout on sandy soils
Overgrazed pasture and grazing very short grass
Turnout in arenas or other surfaced areas
In addition to these, the following circumstances can increase risk further:
Factors that reduce gut motility (movement) such as reduced exercise or box rest, insufficient water and/or fibre.
Feeding forage and concentrate feeds from the floor
Prolonged, dry, weather conditions (where soil and dirt may be more easily ingested)
A common sign of sand accumulation in the gut includes a change in the consistency of manure, changing from normal to diarrhoea or softer than normal droppings.Being abrasive, sand or dirt can irritate the gut wall which can cause changes in behaviour and bloating.
There are some preventative measures that can be taken where you think your horse may be at increased risk.
Faecal Sand Test
Faecal sand tests can easily be done using either a large plastic glove, sandwich bag or similar (see instructions below). The test works on the principle that sand and other dirt particles are heaviest and therefore fall to the bottom of the glove/bag when manure is suspended in water and mixed.
How to conduct a faecal sand test:
Weigh out a set amount of faeces (keep this the same each time you repeat the test) and place in rectal sleeve/large plastic glove (sandwich bag or similar). If using a bag hang it so a corner is facing towards the ground for sand to collect.
Add 0.5-1 litre of warm water (keep this consistent if repeating), gently mix/rub the contents so that the faecal balls are broken up and disperse within the water.
Hang the glove containing the faecal suspension for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes record the findings.
Mix the contents of the glove and then leave to hang until the following day.
Record findings again.
It is important to note that the absence of sand from a single test does not mean that sand is not present in the large colon. Best practice where sand accumulation is suspected, is to undertake an initial evaluation every other day over two weeks.
More than 1 teaspoon of sand or more than 0.25 inches (6mm) of sand sediment in the fingertips of the gloves is typically evidence of sand accumulation.
A positive test does not confirm whether sand presence is due to sand simply passing through the system or whether there is an accumulation, but it does suggest ingestion of sand.
If sand accumulation is suspected, it is always best to contact your vet initially.
Supplements containing psyllium husks such as Sand Shifter are recommended, either as part of a preventative approach or as part of a holistic treatment for sand accumulation as directed by your vet.Note that as psyllium husks can be unpalatable, so choosing a supplement with added flavouring is key – Sand Shifter contains aniseed, making it an excellent option.