Asad’s Medicinal Mush

Asad’s gut issues started making themselves known the end of November (click here). Keeping him eating, drinking and moving around was a bit of a challenge. It turned out that he had been carrying around a cement mixer’s worth of Iowa mudstone and getting it out was making him feel miserable.

He inevitably progressed to full on sand colic. Sand colic is common among rescues because letting horses stand and starve leaves them with an empty and acidic hind gut. They resort to eating dirt becaue horse saliva is alkaline and chewing and swallowing relieves the acidity in their guts. Since their is neither food nor movement to push the dirt on through, it accumulates in their guts. When such horses do start eating, the accumulated sand interferes with digestion and absorption.

As long as Asad was willing to keep on eating, drinking and moving, I was not too worried. At least, not until his manure started smelling putrid. And he developed tenderness on his lower left abdomen, just about where the left dorsal colon narrows to make a hairpin turn and becomes the left ventral colon. And he started bloating up painfully tight on his upper right flank where the cecum lies.

Fig. 1. Gastrointestinal tract of the adult horse
Passage rate through the equine gastrointestinal tract is best described by mean retention time (MRT). Transit times of digesta differ greatly between the different parts of the gastrointestinal tract. Passage through the stomach and small intestine is rapid (5 h on average), whereas a longer retention time is recorded in the cecum and colon (35 h on average)…A number of animal and feed related factors influence MRT: body weight, pregnancy and lactation may increase passage rate,
whereas the impact of exercise, the most important animal related factor, will depend on the exercise type and the fluid/particle ratio.
Information on the effect of the main feed related factors is lacking. Smaller particles and feed with a higher water-holding capacity move slower through the gut, but reduced fibre length, increased feeding level and increased forage/concentrate ratio will accelerate passage rate. Feeding frequency seems not to affect passage rate.
Sometimes, conclusions are contradictory as effect of animals, feeds and methods are confusing.’

I know my horse came from Iowa, but that does not mean he should smell like the back end of a pig farm. Putrid smells are the result of rotting proteins. Since horses do not eat meat, that smell meant that he had necrotic tissue in his gut.

When a living horse has dying tissue on their guts is when I hit the panic button. If the affected area actually makes a hole in his colon, he has peritonitis and that is a death sentence. if the pain drives him to rolling until he twists a gut, that is a death sentence. If toxic bacteria release sufficient toxins, that can precipitate laminitis and if the horse survives that, he would be in pain and crippled for the rest of his life.

Reducing pain became a priority and a problem. Pushing his body to increase gut motility without precipitating gut spams was a fine line. Horse pain killers from your local veternarian are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and, like human aspirin, they cause inflammation in the gut.

The last thing Asad needed was more inflammation in his gut. Thankfully New Mexico has legalized recreational marijuana and I had a few friends I could beg for their swag, the left over leaves from their private plants. I started adding about a tablespoon of swag to Asad’s mush.

Marijuana is an ancient horse whisperer’s friend that traveled to the New World with the horses that came from Europe as a medicinal plant as much as a recreational one. It has such a strong regulating and calming effect on the nervous system that it effectively control epileptic seizures. And it reduces pain while increasing appetite.

The swag kept Asad from throwing himself on the ground and thrashing with pain, but left him still gassy, bloated, irritable and tender on his left abdomen. I started feeding him his medicinal mush about every four hours around the clock. And while his manure was plentiful and carrying plenty of sand, it was still more of a cow plop than horse apples. He never quite developed diarrhea, but there was a distinct difference between the clumps of roughage and the acidic green fluid in his droppings.

We were about three weeks in to this episode of sand colic with no end in sight when I got a very timely shipment from Omega Fields as part of my Winnie Award from the Equus Arts and Film festival. Asad actually liked their peppermint flavored flaxseed nibblers, so I added their Horseshine flaxseed supplement to his mush. And that was the turning point.

Apparently Asad was lacking in quality oils and fats in his diet. The gassy bloating in his cecum was gone within a day or so of adding the flaxseed supplement. And the fatty acids in the flaxseed quickly emulsified the acids in his hind gut, so much so that his drooping had a mayonnaise-like sheen for the first week.

Then Asad started getting opinionated about what I was putting in his mush. I had to reduce the electrolytes by half or he would not eat it. I gradually reduced the amount to one half scoop and that to just once a day. That seems to be enough to keep his guts alkalized (calcium lactate), his manure hydrated and his guts moving (magnesium sulfate) and him drinking sufficient amounts of water (sodium chloride).

Asad had been quite willing to eat the swag I added to his mush as long as he was feeling truly miserable. The tenderness in his lower left abdomen was much less acute once he managed to get what appeared to be an impaction around the hair pin turn in his colon. As soon as he was feeling better, he decided that he really did not like having medical marijuana added to his food and refused to eat it.

As he began feeling better I was also able to gradually reduce the frequency I fed him his medicinal mush from every four hours, to six hours, then eight. I now feed him his mush in the morning and in the evening, roughly twelve hours apart. Now his mush has these ingredients:

  • a quart of timothy pellets
  • a pint of Triple Crown low starch/supplement pellets with fiber, digestive enzymes and probiotics
  • a scoop of psyllium with probiotics
  • a scoop of Omega Fields Horseshine flaxseed supplement
  • half a scoop of electrolytes in the evening
  • a scoop of Source micronutrient seaweed supplement in the morning
  • along with enough warm water to make it all an acceptably soupy offering.

And I make sure he has plenty of clean warm water to drink. He does not like cold water or cold mush and he seriously dislikes dirty anything. I have to clean his water bucket and feeder at least every day if I want him to eat and drink.

Since volume is the best way to move sand through a horse’s intestines, I feed Asad his full ration at night. I put 5- 6 pounds of timothy hay plus a quart of Triple Crown and 5 quarts of timothy pellets in a horse treat ball in a 150 gallon Rubbermaid feeder. Rolling the treat ball around keeps him occupied and the Rubbermaid tub keeps his food out of the dirt. I also have a rubber mat where he eats so there is less chance of him eating dirt when he decides to clean up any scarps that escape.

There is usually some food left when I go out to feed him his medicinal mush in the morning. My main goal is to keep him from eating more sand, since he learned that eating dirt soothed his burning insides. I make sure he has enough feed to keep him occupied during the day as he eats a whole lot more if his belly is aching, but digests much less of it.

Maintenance mode is much easier than crisis management on both of us, so I am doing everything I can to minimize the chances of Asad having another acute bout of sand colic.

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