Category Archives: Intestinal Health in Horses

The Perfect storm

So, I wish I did not have to start this process again…but unfortunately, I do. Once again I have a senior horse with a variety of acute and chronic conditions that all hit at the same time. Right now I am trying to make her comfortable while also trying to figure out what is what and how to best respond.

Three months ago Tilly was tested for EPM due to muscle wasting and weight loss.The first time she was in the lower end of an active infection. We started a compounded medicine for 1 month and her numbers decreased. We decided to do another round as she responded well to the first round. However, the numbers remained the same. We also tested her for Lyme which showed a chronic and an active infection but the numbers were in the high normal range and the vet felt that it was not treatment worthy at the time.

Last month Tilly began “crab walking” out of the blue. Called the vet. They came out. Her ataxia was bilateral- both her left and right hind- whereas EPM tends to be unilateral. Further, her presentation was not suggestive of Lyme.

We started steroids (dexamethasone oral power) for 5 days with Banamine, tapering as we went, and she seemed to recover. The consensus was it was an acute attack that may have occurred given she is a senior with a history of being an Amish workhorse and perhaps, she pulled something in her neck.

Treatment was complete and another week went by and again, she showed some ataxia. This time less severe. The vet felt that since she responded well to the first round of steroids that it was not EPM-related as you would not see improvement. Further, if it were Lyme related the presentation would be more consistent. Again, a round of Dex and improved quickly. The next week we had her neck x-rayed and there were some arthritic changes. However, she was running around and moving well so the vet felt injections in her neck would not be necessary at that time.

Seventy two hours later, she had some trouble getting up but eventually succeeded. The next morning my sweet girl was spinning, crab walking, and falling over. It was absolutely terrible to see. I immediately gave her 10cc IV Banamine and she calmed down and stopped spinning. The vet came out and administered Dex IV and thought that due to her inflammatory bowel disease we should try Dex IM to ensure absorption. We also decided to pull blood to test for Cushings as she seemed to lose weight overnight and was not shedding out well. The next day she was lame on her right front. Panicked I called the vet fearing that if she did have Cushings, she was trying to founder due to the steroid use. Thankfully, the vet came out, did a nerve block on her right front (this helps to see if the horse has laminitis as they will improve once blocked) and checked for pulses (if a horse has laminitis typically they will have pulses in their hooves) and Tilly did not have any. So, the vet did not feel we were dealing with founder. However, the lameness presented a major challenge due to her still being ataxic on the hind end. The vet did cortisone injections into her neck hoping to help with inflammation due to arthritis. Tilly did great and suddenly, began freaking out. Spinning, knocking into the doors, etc. The vet explained that the injections likely added more pressure on her spinal cord causing her to react. Again, once the vet was able to safely administer Banamine and some Dorm, she calmed and laid down for the first time in over a week for a good 45 minutes. We decided to make sure she was able to get back up. Although she had some trouble, after a couple tries, she was able to do so. Her breathing was heavy, wheezy, almost like she was having a panic attack and hyperventilating. A few minutes later, her breathing returned to normal.

Tilly’s Cushing’s text level was about 100 pg/mL (it should be about 30 pg/mL during mid-November to mid-July) meaning, she does have Cushings. The vet decided to wean her off of the steroid as to not increase the risk of Laminitis even more but also to give neck injections time to work (5-7 days). We also immediately began Prescend (2 tabs) a day to treat her Cushings.

We are on day 5 since the 3rd ataxic episode and day 3 post neck injection and she is still lame on her right front along with ataxic on her hind end. However, she is still eating, engaging, and is bright and alert. She does not seemed distressed or in pain thankfully. Due to Tilly not showing much improvement (even though it can take 5-7 days to see improvements from the neck injections) I decided to start her on a non-compounded EPM medication, Protazil. According to the vet, Protazil should not cause any harm whether her symptoms are EMP related or not. I also began 10cc of Vitamin E oil. Tilly was previously on pelleted Vitamin E but due to her inflammatory bowel disorder, she may struggle to absorb the pelleted form of the supplement. Further, there are a number of studies showing the benefits of Vitamin E and the connection between Vitamin E and ataxia.

On a positive note, since starting Prescend for her Cushings, I have noticed that she is drinking less water. Increased water intake is a symptom of unmanaged Cushings. I am hopeful that means the medication has started to work at regulating her hormones. We are now at a wait and see point. I continue to try to make her comfortable. Tons of bedding in her huge foaling stall, hay everywhere, fans on, doors open. She has been a trooper. My hope is that she recovers from this and enjoy whatever time she has left and fights this as she has so many other things- the reason she was given the name, Ottilie.


How Horses Stay Warm

How to Check Your Horse’s Gut Sounds

Fecal Water Syndrome

My senior Belgian Draft mare has a chronic condition where her stools are relatively solid but after having a stool, she passes fecal liquid separately, Her tail and hind end, and legs are covered. Initially when she came to me she had loose stools and the vet did a fecal and we put her on Biosponge. Her Fecal Sample showed minimal infestation and the Biosponge did not do much. Over time, her stools became more solid but the liquid continued. Now, after being with me for about 6 months we are still having this issue.

So, I did some research and came across an article on something I had never heard of before- Fecal Water Syndrome. According to an article on, Fecal Water Syndrome is typically caused by the following;

The underlying cause of FWS in horses is not known at this time and there are many theories as to why some horses develop it. A group of researchers in Germany set out to explore some of the proposed theories and discovered that neither dental disease nor a heavy parasite burden seemed to be associated with FWS. However, it was found to be more likely to occur:

  • in horses of low rank or “pecking order” in the social hierarchy of a herd
  • in winter when subordinate horses were confined to a smaller space, leading to anxiety
  • in geldings vs mares, which are usually more dominant than geldings
  • in paint horses

However, the article also noted that due to FWS being a relatively new diagnosis, more studies are needed to look at the role stress, nutrition, and potentially, other factors in the development and management of FWS.

Diagnosis of FWS

Most veterinarians approach the diagnosis of a horse with FWS similar to one with diarrhea or loose stool. That is, they start by taking a thorough history from the owner, then perform a complete physical examination with special emphasis on the digestive system, and finally may recommend specific tests to evaluate the health of the horse in general and the GI tract in particular. It can be helpful to confirm the presence of soiled hind limbs and tail as well as dirty stall walls and bedding. While on the farm, the vet may want to walk through the regular feeding and management programs including turnout and herd status.

Treatment and Management of FWS

Although there is no standard treatment or set of recommendations for the care and feeding of horse suffering from FWS, all potential causes for disruption in the GI system should be addressed, including social stress.

  1. Making adjustments to the horse’s turn-out time and group.
  2. Making adjustments to the diet (with the input of a veterinarian and nutritionist.)
  3. Trying out various medications and supplements one at a time on the passage of fecal water. For example, adding omega 3 fatty acids for a normal inflammatory response in the gut, and to the stabilizing effects of “baker’s yeast” or Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
  4. Make sure to keep the hindquarters clean and dry to prevent any sores for forming.

Resources for Chronic Loose Stools in Horses


BEST Guide to all Things Colitis, Diarrhea, and Intestinal Health

Age-Defying Equines

Diarrhea and Fecal Water Syndrome in Horses

What Comes Out, What Goes In