Digestive Diseases

While food plays a part in many horse diseases, it”s biggest affect is on a horse”s digestive health. To keep a horse healthy and active, there are many things to consider. First, the feed itself. You have to know what to avoid and what to give your horse. You also have to know the right way to handle the food and when to serve it.

Food”s Affect on Horse Health

Most digestive disease is caused by what and when a horse eats. It”s a good idea to check food carefully to make sure no mold is forming on it. Any moldy food should be thrown away. This is because mold can cause the horse to suffer from kidney disease, choking distemper and other problems.

Hay, while a popular food for horses, can also be a problem if it”s not prepared right. Fresh hay is hard to digest for most horses. It causes them to slobber and purge the food. In addition to digestive disease, it can irritate the skin as well. Some horses also come down with bowel problems. Besides that, indigestion, sudden paralysis and “softness” (not being able to do work) can be caused by feeding your horse the wrong food.

Maintaining Horse Digestive Health

The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” especially applies to horse health. There are many ways to make sure the food you feed your horse is safe. Again, it”s recommended that any food with mold on it should be avoided. When serving hay, vets say that it should be aged one year and be clean. Good hay smells sweet and has a greenish coloring to it.

If you feed your horse grains, they should be crushed, ground or boiled. This will make them easier to digest for your horse. Also, if you decide to mix the grains with hay, it”s recommended that the trough be kept clean and that some salt be added to the mix. This will keep the food fresh and safe for your horse to eat. It”s also a good idea for any unused food to be thrown out, especially in the summer. Any water you give your horse should be as pure as possible and not too cold.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing food:

  • Oats are very good for a horse”s digestive health and full of nutrition. The best ones to give them are one-year-old, plump, short, hard, clean and sweet. Just make sure the oats have not fermented or sprouted first.
  • Bran can be fed if it is mixed with other grains, as long as it isn”t sour.
  • Linseed ground and mixed into feed can also help their digestive health as well as linseed tea.
  • Potatoes, beets and lots of grass are considered bad foods for a horse”s digestive system.
  • Wheat and rye chaff is not good for a horse to eat because they can get stuck in the mouth or throat.
  • Oat chaff mixed with cut hay or corn fodder is good in small doses.

Feeding Schedules, Quantity and Digestive Disease

Bad food isn”t the only thing that has an effect on horse health. When, and how much, you feed your horse has an effect as well. The amount of food your horse eats should be figured out based on how much work the horse is doing. There should also be breaks in between feeding and work to let the horse digest his or her food properly.

If you want to help your horse avoid digestive disease, it”s a good idea to feed foods in a certain order. Hay and straw pass through the stomach faster than oats do. That would mean oats would be fed first, followed by hay and straw. Otherwise, the oats would not be fully digested. Digestion can take a few hours. It”s also better to wait at least two hours after your horse has eaten before making him work. Horses also have to eat at least three times a day for full digestive health.

Recognizing Digestive Disease

Maintaining horse health depends on more than prevention. You also have to be able to spot a problem as early as possible. If your horse”s mouth is swelling, hot or painful to the touch, there is a problem. Keep an eye out for excessive saliva, ulcers on the mouth and an inability to eat or drink anything.

Your horse might also be restless, look at his flank, stretch a lot or groan. If these, or any other unusual symptoms start, it”s a good idea to talk to your vet as soon as possible.


Michener, CH. B, V.S. (2007). Diseases of the Digestive Organs. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from the Project Gutenberg Web site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23403/23403-h/23403-h.htm#Page_49.