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What can you do about it?

How does faecal water develop?

Digestive disturbances in the horse’s large intestine can lead to faecal water, which is becoming increasingly common today.

What happens in the large intestine?

In the intestine, structural carbohydrates get digested by microorganisms. Additionally, water and nutrients are extracted from food pulp/bolus, and the unwanted products are formed into faeces. Before being excreted, faeces become thicker (and visibly more familiar) due to the peristaltic movements of the intestinal muscles. If the horse is suffering from faecal water, the faeces are excreted with a brown fluid. The fluid can vary; it can either be a few drops or a whole stream. Faecal water can also occur in specific situations – for example, if the horse is under stress – or could be present permanently. 

What happens in the intestine when faecal water occurs?

The large intestine depends on a very precise pH value; in a healthy horse, this value is between 6.8 and 7.2 (neutral range).  

An acidic pH value causes inflammation of the intestinal mucosa

If the intestine becomes acidified – as in, the pH value drops below 6.8 – it kills off the essential microorganisms. The acid also harms the intestinal mucosa, which consequently becomes inflamed. In the long-term, this inflammation causes the dense cell structure lining the intestine to loosen, creating ‘holes’. These holes lead to leaky gut syndrome.

Faecal water is self-reinforcing

The holes created in the intestinal mucosa causes the faecal water to become self-reinforcing. The absorbed fluid is able to flow back through the holes into the intestine, but cannot be sufficiently absorbed again, so is excreted. This leads to the visible faecal water. With faecal water, the fluid is first extracted from the faeces (as stated above) but flows in the wrong direction – back into the intestine.
The faeces and faecal water are usually very acidic, which, in turn, causes further inflammation of the intestinal mucosa and creates additional holes. Faecal water, therefore, ensures that more faecal water develops through its self-reinforcing cycle.
This also occurs for horses that only have faecal water in specific situations, like stress. Even the slightest disturbance in the function of the intestine and blood circulation, all of which have a sensitive relationship, causes an imbalance – enough to trigger faecal water.

What acidifies the large intestine?

Particularly acidic feed (e.g. haylage) and lactic acid bacteria in the digestive system (from haylage, but also horses fed with lactobacillus and ‘bifido’ cultures, yoghurt, etc.) have an effect on the horse’s intestine.
Lactic acid bacteria are not part of the horse’s natural intestinal flora; the bacteria prefer pH levels below 6, which is too low for the horse’s intestine.

Lactic acid bacteria acidify the large intestine

Lactic acid bacteria break down the proteins and sugars found in roughage, but not the structural carbohydrates. They do not make molecules which the horse can use for energy production; instead, they form lactic acid molecules.
This acidifies the intestine, which strengthens and multiplies the lactic acid bacteria. The natural intestinal flora cannot live in an acidic environment, so die off.
In order to produce energy, the lactic acid is absorbed into the liver to be converted into sugar. It is therefore a waste product and not a nutrient.

Cellulose is better than starch

An excess of concentrated feed causes acidification in the large intestine, especially if the concentrate is hard for the horse to digest.
Starch, from uncrushed or excess barley, and maize (that has not been heat-treated or micronised) reaches the large intestine and remains as a nutrient for the lactic acid bacteria.

The intestinal flora of the large intestine cannot digest starch; it requires cellulose to be able to work properly.
An excessive feeding of pectin – found in apple pomace, sugar beet pulp, or in carrots – shifts the horse’s intestinal flora towards protozoa and other acid-producing microorganisms. These should only be present in small quantities, and never in an excessive amount.

Faecal water due to stress

Stress in particular is known to cause faecal water. Permanent stress is particularly problematic. It can come “from the outside”, for example from an unsuitable group composition or a non-friendly neighbour in the stable, but also “from the inside”, for example from chronic pain or stomach ulcers.

What can you do about faecal water?

To help a horse suffering with faecal water, the first thing
to do is check the feed.
In order to get the problem under control, any feed that can disturb the natural intestinal flora should be replaced with feed that contains good hay.

Avoid feeding haylage and sugar

In addition to haylage, the intestinal flora is adversely
affected by everything that contains sugar.
This includes treats, carrots, apples, bread, and mueslis that contain molasses, especially if they are enriched with apple

Muesli Feeds / Chaff

Muesli and chaff contain small green stalks, which, for horses with faecal water, is a big ‘taboo’. Due to their length, the stalks slow down the intestine’s function – in fact, the feed can ferment in the large intestine forup to a week.

Only essential medication

If administrating medicines (such as worming) please consider the extent to which it will disturb and harm the intestinal flora. Worming specifically should only be used if the horse has a known worm infestation and not as a precautionary measure. It is much better to test for each type of worm and then target the specific worms.

Heufütterung im Offenstall
© acceptfoto / Adobe Stock

Good Hay

Horses with faecal water need an appropriate amount of good quality hay at all times. As a rule of thumb: 1.5 – 3kg of hay per 100kg of body weight.

Good hay is the be-all and end-all of healthy horse feeding.

Lots of small meals

Avoid empty periods of more than four hours as this leads to a breakdown of the intestinal flora. If necessary, provide straw, twigs, leaves, and similar sources of roughage for the horse. Concentrated feed meals should be kept low and, if possible, divided into lots of small meals. Horses with gastrointestinal sensitivities can be fed Sainfoin as a grain-free basic feed.

Intestinal rehabilitation

OKAPI ColoProtect forte has an absorbing and stabilising effect on the intestinal environment and pH value.
The product contains beta-glucan, which has anti-inflammatory properties, to cover the damaged intestinal mucosa like a protective layer.

With severe faecal water, an additional administration of psyllium husks or Jerusalem artichokes is recommended, as they act like a sponge to absorb the faecal water. This allows some balance in the self-regulatory cycle of faecal water.

If faecal water still persists after herbal intestinal restoration, then the problem is often due to stomach ulcers or stress.
If this is the case, a course of treatment with OKAPI GasterCare forte will help eliminate any potential stress triggers and also help isolate the cause.

Stabilisation of the pH value and detoxification

For stabilising the pH level in horses with faecal water issues, a treatment of OKAPI Prodic over the course of 2-4 weeks is recommended. It makes sure the body is supporting the converting of acids quickly and eliminating them.
Additionally, administrating OKAPI Spirulina can effectively relieve the metabolism of excess toxins during detoxification. Horses who suffer from severe faecal water can be supported by using OKAPI Detox Herbs, OKAPI Bitter Herbs,
OKAPI Pasture Herbs, and OKAPI Immuno Herbs alternatively every two weeks

Horses with high indican values can be treated with zinc chelate, or OKAPI HeparKPU forte. However, please discuss this with our expert advisers before administering, especially if you are already using a mineral feed with a high zinc content. For a long-term, healthy alternative to concentrated feed, we recommend OKAPI Four-Season Feed, a pure herbal feed which contains suitable and supportive seasonal herbs. This feed can help with unpalatable ‘extras’ which may need to be fed to the horse.

Team Sanoanimal