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I heard from a friend on the yard that I should do an annual psyllium treatment with my horse to “cleanse his intestines”, which should protect him from colic. As my horse has a rather sensitive gastrointestinal tract, I naturally want to prevent him from getting colic, but he doesn’t particularly like psyllium. Hence my question: is an annual psyllium treatment useful or not?

We are often faced with the question if a regular treatment with psyllium seeds or psyllium husks is useful, as it’s widely discussed amongst horse owners. But is it a suitable treatment for every horse? Are there reasons not to give psyllium? And can a psyllium treatment perhaps even cause harm?

In a nutshell: After ingesting sand or soil, always give psyllium seeds or psyllium husks!

To get straight to the point: if a horse ingests a lot of dirt from the ground, for example, if it pulls every blade of grass from the paddock ground and eats it together with the roots, if the horses ingest every bit of remaining green from a grazed down paddock throughout the winter or if a horse picks up every blade of hay, even if it is covered in mud or sand dust, then we definitely recommend a treatment with psyllium or psyllium husks twice annually. This goes without saying.

In other scenarios, it depends… So let’s take a closer look at the capabilities of these famous seeds and shells.

Plantago ovata, the Indian brother of the native plantain

Indian psyllium is obtained from the plant Plantago ovata, a plant from the plantain family which, as the name suggests, is native to India. Psyllium gets its name from its appearance. The name psyllium comes from the Greek word “psulla”, which means flea, because seeds on the plant resemble clustered fleas.

Whole psyllium seeds and psyllium husks do not differ in their effect

It is usually recommended to soak the psyllium seeds/shells before feeding so that they can develop their mucilage-forming effect. However, many horses will not eat them in this slimy form. Alternatively, both can also be given dry or mixed with a handful of hay cobs and fed immediately, as they then swell up in the gastrointestinal tract and thus have the same effect. For horses that are prone to impaction colic, they should be soaked before feeding to be on the safe side and, if necessary, offered in a very liquid form, mixed with soaked hay cobs or a tasty herbal mixture.

Whole psyllium seeds differ from psyllium husks only in that one uses the whole seed (including the husk) and the other uses only the seed husks. Most of the mucilage-forming substances are found in the husks. The whole seed is of course richer in nutrients, which is why it is perhaps better to use the husks for the slightly overweight pony. However, most horses prefer to eat the whole seeds rather than the hulls and it is no use offering the hulls if the pony refuses them outright.

Desirable side effect: Whole psyllium seeds support horses with insulin resistance

In addition, many overweight horses suffer from (not always diagnosed) insulin resistance and whole psyllium seeds have a positive effect on blood sugar regulation. It may therefore make sense to choose whole psyllium seeds for an overweight pony. Basically you have to weigh up what is the better option in each individual case or sometimes it is a case of ‘trial and error’ as to what is accepted in the feed bowl.

Psyllium seeds for diarrhoea, colic, or faecal water

One significant fact is that psyllium seeds/shells have binding abilities, it absorbs the excessive moisture in the intestines and binds to the faeces without solidifying. This is why they are mainly used in horses for digestive problems such as diarrhoea or faecal water, but also after colic or if there is a tendency to colic. They can help to normalise peristalsis and their mucus covers inflamed areas of the mucous membrane like a protective film, allowing these inflammations to calm down, which further stabilises the intestines.

Psyllium
Desirable side effect: Whole psyllium seeds support horses with insulin resistance.
©Adobe Stock / alicja neumiler

Psyllium seeds and psyllium husks against sand colic

Another application is cleaning sand from the intestines. Especially when horses are standing on sandy soil and take their feed from the ground, but also when the first grasses sprout along the pathways in spring and are consumed by pulling the entire plant out of the ground, or when horses are standing on bare pastures and start to eat the roots, out of hunger, they ingest sand to a greater extent. . Psyllium husks or psyllium seeds bind the sand deposited in the intestines and help to excrete it.

The best prophylaxis is of course to avoid ingesting sand.

It is always better if the horse does not ingest too much sand in the first place. This can be assisted by offering the hay in hay nets and always having sufficient hay available so that the horses do not have to pick up the ‘dirty’ hay from the ground. Of course, there should also be enough feeding places available so that everyone is sufficiently supplied, and the lower-ranking horses do not only get the (dirty) leftovers from the ground.

But sometimes it is unavoidable that sand is ingested, especially in winter paddocks or paddock tracks with sandy soils. In cases like this it has proven to be a helpful to cleanse the intestines with psyllium seeds/shells twice a year for approx. 30 days as a prophylactic measure.

Conclusion

Treatments with psyllium seeds or psyllium husks can be very useful, especially in the case of existing digestive disorders or after ingesting sand. There is almost no difference in effect between the seeds and the seed husks. There are no known contraindications. For horses with a tendency to impaction colic, it is best to soak the seeds/husks before feeding.


Elke Malenke