The 3 C's of horses' droppings
It may not be a subject we always want to talk about, but let's discuss droppings!
Your horse's digestive tract is very closely linked to general health, with over 70% of their total immunity coming from there. Their droppings are a reflection of how that digestive tract is doing, so knowing a little about what to look for can help you keep an eye on what is happening inside. Just as diamonds are famous for their 3 C's, so droppings can have 3 C's too – Count, Colour and Consistency.
Horses pass approximately the same number of droppings each day. Knowing what is normal for your horse is important, as any changes – up or down – could be a sign of an internal problem. Mares and geldings typically pass around eight to twelve droppings per day, with stallions and foals passing more. Horses fed a higher proportion of dried forage will pass relatively more droppings than a horse on grass. Although horses are good at handling dried forage they cannot digest all they eat and so more droppings result.
Too few droppings can result from simply eating less, particularly less fibre. However, if droppings stop altogether, or there are signs of colic, then there is risk of an intestinal blockage and your vet should be contacted immediately. An increasing number may be due to diarrhoea, microbiome disturbance, stress or excitement.
The diet has the biggest effect on the colour of your horse's droppings, but they should be on a scale from green to brown. Horses on fresh grass will have greener colour, with the darker brown colour for those on hay based diets. Some commercial diets may cause an orange tinge to be seen.
If a yellow colour is noticed it indicates mucous from the gut lining, and suggests the passage through the gut has slowed. Monitor the horse closely, increase water intake by soaking forage and feeding electrolytes. Discuss with your vet if it persists, or if the mucous is obvious.
If red is seen, indicating blood in the droppings, contact your veterinarian immediately.
The consistency can be an important indicator of digestive health, so do monitor closely for any changes. Broadly speaking, consistency can be graded on a scale from 1 to 7.
- Watery diarrhoea. If the horse is passing profuse, liquid diarrhoea it should be considered a medical emergency. There are a number of reasons, but do consult your vet as they will be able to assess the situation and advise treatment.
Note – this is different to water passing alongside droppings, known as Free Faecal Water (No. 7).
- Diarrhoea. There are numerous causes and severity may range from mild to severe. Foals are particularly prone as their digestion learns to cope with new diets and environments. Do discuss any sudden diarrhoea with your vet, though it may just need a simple course of pre and probiotics.
- Soft, unformed. Often termed 'cow-pats' the droppings are not liquid, but are not defined balls of manure. It does indicate a digestive issue, which should be addressed. Ensure sufficient fibre is being fed. Remember fresh grass can be relatively low in fibre, particularly during rapid growth and high rainfall. Offering dry hay in the pasture may help.
- Soft, formed, glossy. Balls are formed, but soft, with a glossy appearance. Indicates a healthy digestive tract, on a natural diet.
- Firm, formed. Where the diet is fibre based and essentially good, but lacking access to fresh grass, this consistency is considered normal.
- Hard, dry. If droppings are hard and dry it could indicate dehydration, or poor quality forage. Increase water intake by soaking forage, if necessary, or feeding soaked feed and supplement with ElectroSalts to encourage drinking. Ensure the teeth are checked regularly by a vet or equine dentist, as poor dentition can also result in hard, fibrous droppings.
- Free Faecal Water (FFW). FFW describes the passing of water from the rectum alongside droppings which, themselves, may be otherwise normal. Water may be passed before, during or after droppings, and while the cause is still not well understood it is rarely associated with ill health. However it can cause skin irritation, increase grooming and attract flies. Feed a high fibre diet, and supplement with daily prebiotic, probiotics and bentonite clay, as a digestive absorbent.
Finally, it's not just the 3 C's to monitor droppings for. Look out for worms, which would indicate a de-worming programme is needed, un-chewed fibres which highlight dentition issues, or evidence of sand accumulation from grazing on dry ground.
Our horses' droppings tell us so much about their health, so next time you're mucking have a quick look and see what they say about your horse. Once you are happy with your horse's droppings, maintain a healthy digestive tract and stable hindgut microbiome with GastriAid.