Resolving Diarrhea (liquid brown squirts) in Senior Horses
The most common cause of diarrhea we have found in an otherwise healthy senior horse is due to an inability of the horse to digest something in their diet, usually due to their teeth wearing out.
In a healthy horse, there is an uptake of liquid in the digestive track just before fecal balls are formed and pooped out. If the horse’s colon is irritated, then the body can have trouble up-taking the liquid. The manure balls can still be well-formed, but brown liquid can come squirting out when the horse passes a manure pile, (and sometimes even when they aren’t passing manure).
How does the colon get irritated? A common example in senior horses is poorly chewed hay. As a horse ages and the teeth decline in grinding efficiency, pieces of poorly chewed hay can get all the way to the colon, causing irritation and the resulting brown liquid squirts.
Some horses with the squirts also quid hay. That is a clue about the state of their teeth, and their inability to chew well. Other horses aren’t to the point of quidding hay, but they do have intermittent liquid brown squirts.
What to do about this? If the problem is new, look at your hay and see how stemmy it is. Try feeding a softer hay. Seniors can have a much easier time chewing softer hay. However, as their teeth continue to wear out, even soft hay may cause a problem, evidenced by continuing liquid brown squirts. In this case, remove the hay from the diet and replace with soaked hay pellets or cubes. If poorly chewed hay is the culprit, (whether stemmy or soft) the squirts will be gone in as quickly as 36 hours after switching to a soaked hay pellet diet.
In addition, to prevent choking, we always feed the hay pellets soaked so they are completely broken down. We’ve never had a horse choke when the hay pellets are soaked and fully broken down, but we have had incidences of choke in senior horses when the pellets are dry or partially soaked and not fully broken down.
On a side note, we have not found pasture to be a problem for causing squirts, even in a senior horse that quids hay. Pasture has a higher water content and is softer to chew than dried hay.
If you are new to feeding soaked hay pellets, here’s some more information on how to do it. “How to Soak and Feed Alfalfa, Timothy or Grass Pellets.”
Here is the story of the first senior horse that came to us with diarrhea, and we were able to clear it up with a diet change to soaked hay pellets. He spent the last years of his life diarrhea free.