Shortly after dinner veterinarian Eric Raterink received a phone call from the owner of Famke, a 12-year-old mare. The mare had suddenly come down with signs of colic. Eric says: ‘When I arrived she was lying in the field, or rather what was left of it. There wasn’t much grass left but she received daily rations of hay, fed from a bin. As is so often the case, the field around the bin had been trampled to mud and a large part of the hay was scattered across it.’ The clinical examination of Famke revealed mild symptoms: ears slightly cold, not much audible activity in the gut and heart rate a bit too high. When I palpated her I noticed that her tail was pretty wet and dirty: ‘When carefully easing my arm in I got the nasty confirmation of my initial hunch: the diarrhoea dripping from my armpit contained a gigantic amount of sand.’
Piling up of sand in the intestines is a gradual process, every day the horse ingests a little more when grazing or eating hay in the field. It sinks to the deepest part of the gut and is only very slowly transported out again with the droppings. So it keeps piling up, until the scouring and weight suddenly trigger colic. Grazing of very short fields or feeding from troughs or bins are risk factors. A diagnosis can easily be obtained by filling a plastic glove with droppings and water. Sand is heavier than the droppings and will sag to the bottom when the glove is suspended.
Eric continues: ‘Famke responded well to painkillers, so I drove home feeling reassured. But that proved to be premature because an hour later Famke’s owner called again to say that she was still colicky, in spite of the painkillers. On my advice Famke was then transported to our clinic in Hellendoorn-Nijverdal where we did a blood test and took an ultrasound from her abdomen. But nothing suggested any other cause than sand colic. The next day Famke and her owner travelled home, none the worse than just a fright. They have learned a valuable lesson: prevention is cheaper than the cure. The owner is now looking to have a section of Famke’s field tiled over for feeding her hay and he regularly checks her droppings for sand.’