Horse owners be alert: Lack of snow cover results in increased potential for sand colic

Signs of sand colic in horses include sluggish behavior, weight loss, diarrhea and standing in a stretched position.

The mild and relatively snow free winter we have experienced has been great for driving, however, it may not be so terrific for your horse’s health. Michigan is certainly no stranger to sand colic, given our extremely sandy soil, but the lack of snow cover this has resulted in horses nibbling at forage and instead taking in sand, resulting in a larger number of sand colic cases than are typically seen this time of year.

Early signs of excess sand in the equine gut include “…sluggish behavior, weight loss, diarrhea and standing in a stretched position” according to It is believed that excess sand will irritate the lining of the gut, producing these symptoms. In acute cases, impaction colic may result, with horses presenting the standard signs of colic including frequent rolling, kicking or biting at flanks, pawing and/or sweating.

Prevention of sand colic involves keeping horses off of sandy soil where forage is limited if possible, feeding on mats, and avoiding the use of sand as a means of dealing with mud in areas where horses are turned out. Some psyllium products have been used with mixed results, but should be used according to manufacturer’s instructions and fed once a month for a week, and not continuously. According to MSU Equine Extension veterinarian Dr. Judy Marteniuk, “it can take weeks or months for sand to be moved out of the digestive track, depending upon the amount present.”

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