Reading the signs: What poop tells you
While mucking out stalls can be therapeutic, manure is also a valuable tool to observe the status of a horse’s gut and overall health. The average 1,000 pound horse produces around nine tons of manure every year. With so much manure being produced, there are ample opportunities to evaluate a horse’s manure in order to have an idea of the health status of the animal.
When evaluating a horse’s manure, it’s important to know what the normal manure production and appearance is for that horse. By knowing the normalcy of your horse’s bowel movements, you’ll be able to catch unusual gut and/or health activity at the beginning. Even though manure may vary from horse to horse, the ideal manure consistency should be that of a regular formed ball of fecal matter. The color of the manure should be uniform, and it will have a slight odor. There should be no mucous covering the fecal balls and no large particles of undigested food in the fecal matter.
Irregularities may be indicative of a need for health assessment. For example, when manure is too moist or wet, diarrhea may be the culprit. There are different causes of diarrhea, including a bacterial infection and severe/abrupt change in diet, etc. Pin pointing the cause of diarrhea is important in order for treatment to begin quickly. When changing a horse’s diet, it is important to do so gradually. By implementing diet changes slowly, the horse’s gastrointestinal tract has time to adapt to the new diet.
Horse manure may be too dry in some cases. The reason for dry manure is typically due to inadequate water consumption. This may arise from water not always being accessible for horses. On average, a horse will consume 8-12 gallons of water per day. As many of us live in the northern states, it’s important to insure that water is accessible to horses during the winter months. Relying on horses to eat snow for their water consumption during winter is not a sound idea from a management point of view. That won’t allow for sufficient water consumption, which may lead to dry manure and impaction problems. For more information regarding proper horse feeding practices during the winter months, please refer to Rebecca Bott’s iGrow article, Feeding Horses in the Winter. Remember to take time to evaluate your horse’s manure and to look for undigested food particles. These undigested particles may indicate how a horse is digesting their feed. Additionally, manure may indicate the functionality of the horse’s teeth, if not addressed, it may lead to future health problems.
The color of manure is another important factor when evaluating the health status of a horse. When horses are fed alfalfa and fresh green grass, their manure may be a bright green color, while horses who consume large amounts of beet pulp may have a reddish tint or dark brown color to their manure. There are two colors that horse owners need to be concerned about; red and black. There may be red specks of blood in feces relating to a tear usually in the lower part of the gastrointestinal tract of the horse. The only time when it’s acceptable to observe black feces is when a foal passes their meconium, which is the first manure the foal passes after being born. However, in older horses, black feces may indicate bleeding taking place in an earlier point of the gastrointestinal tract where the blood was digested with the food before defecation occurred.
Another important aspect of manure are the evidence of parasites that it may harbor. There are many different types of parasites. Some of these parasites include strongyles, tapeworms, pinworms, and many more. These parasites may cause weight loss, poor hair coat, colic, as well as additional problems. When dealing with parasites, it’s important to use varying deworming practices since parasites have been developing a resistance to certain anthelmintics (dewormers). Using different anthelmintics throughout the year will help prevent parasites becoming resistant. Often times, parasites are too small to see with the naked eye and require magnification to deter
-mine whether or not there are any parasites in the feces. Completing a fecal float is a great way to determine whether or not your horse has any parasites present in the gastrointestinal tract. This can be done by submitting a sample of your horse’s feces to a veterinary clinic, where they should be able to determine if there are any parasites in the sample.
Overall, it’s important to know what is normal for your horse. Be aware of how often your horse may defecate. Texture, consistency, and color are important factors to evaluate as well. Having ample access to clean fresh water is an important fact as well. Changing a horse’s diet gradually is a valuable concept to abide by, in order for the gastrointestinal tract of the horse to adapt to the new diet. Remember to evaluate your horse’s feces often for parasites and deworm when needed.