Digestive Disorders In Horses: 3 Types And Remedies

Generally, horses have always looked imposing. Considering their size, this majestic creature tends to steal the show wherever they go. Hence, they naturally fit into different roles, be it for a race, a contest, or even an equine performance.

Unfortunately, many horses are maltreated since some equestrians only focus on what the creature can accomplish, regardless of the horse’s state of health. As a result, horses often experience various disorders because of this kind of treatment. One of the most common reasons behind these illnesses is the food being fed to them.

Digestive disorders can occur at any time if the horses aren’t fed properly. You should be aware of the signs and symptoms of some disorders they might be suffering from. It’d be best to seek the help of your vet if you notice something that needs concern about your horse’s overall physical well-being.

Types Of Digestive Disorders

Digestive problems are often found with minor symptoms, such as bloating or heartburn. Without proper treatment, only then will a digestive problem evolve into something more critical.

On the other hand, digestive disorders run far deeper than digestive problems. Since it shows severe symptoms, it’d be impossible for equestrians to turn a blind eye. However, what these disorders all have in common is how critically they can affect the digestive tract. 

Here’s a list of the common digestive disorders for horses:

Noninfectious Diseases

Although the affected site remains the same, there are multiple causes for equines to experience digestive disorders. 


One of the most common noninfectious diseases for horses is colic which is known as abdominal pain. Considering how ‘vague’ that is, it’s difficult to determine the reasons why colic occurs, unless veterinarians check on the horse themselves. Despite this, it’s somewhat easy to spot whether or not your horse has colic, such as:

  • Change in their behavior
  • Paw the ground repeatedly while looking back at their flanks
  • Curling of upper lip and arching the neck
  • Repeatedly raising rear leg
  • Lying down to roll from side to side
  • Sweating and straining to defecate or urinate

As they struggle to accomplish a couple of their bodily functions, this will snowball into other problems, such as losing appetite, depression, and lower bowel movements. What’s worse is colic could lead to your horse having an inflated abdominal region. Therefore, you probably won’t realize there’s anything wrong with them at a glance.

Gastric Ulcer

Horses can also experience ulcers. However, unlike the usual conditions people have, the reason behind gastric ulcers for horses is typically due to their environment. Changes in housing can stress the horses since they’re active yet reserved creatures. Therefore, if their housing suddenly got rowdy, the noise can easily stress them out. Even introducing new horses can cause stress, especially if they don’t like the ones housed next to them.

Because of these conditions, gastric ulcers are common for both adult horses and newborn foals alike. Naturally, no visible signs indicate a horse is experiencing this since it can heal without treatment. However, that doesn’t stop ulcers from causing discomfort on the horse, considering they take place as a sore in the creature’s stomach lining due to receiving damage from stomach acid and digestive enzymes.

Gastrointestinal Obstruction

For horses to nourish themselves, their food has to go through the same process as humans. Because of this, they have a digestive system designed for their bodies. But despite this, they can still experience problems while eating, particularly obstruction. Also called blockages, obstructions are divided into mechanical and functional obstructions.

Mechanical obstructions are simply described as physical or foreign blockages. After all, horses can still choke on things, regardless of their size. Meanwhile, functional obstructions might be more complicated, considering these can only happen once there’s either little or too much mobility in a horse’s digestive system, particularly their intestines. Once this occurs, various parts of their intestines might change, which halts the flow of food. 

Infectious Diseases

Compared to noninfectious diseases, this can be transmitted from the source down to their hosts. And the only way this can happen is if the carriers are living organisms themselves. Parasites, viruses, bacteria, and other organisms can infect the horse’s body, especially its digestive system.

Parasites are the usual culprits for multiple digestive disorders. Considering how capable they are of reproducing inside their victims, they make quick work of infecting horses. Therefore, horses are bound to consume them unknowingly, resulting in infection. The same applies to bacteria and viruses.

Congenital Disorders

Also called birth defects, congenital disorders tend to occur from genes passed down from an adult horse to its offspring, which leaves these conditions exclusive to a certain family or breed only. However, it’s also possible for defects to result from an injury or chemicals during pregnancy. With these situations in mind, congenital disorders can be seen from cleft palates, cysts, irregular-sized intestines, or even an abnormal number of teeth. 

How To Treat Them

Considering how many digestive disorders there are, it’s up to the equestrian to ensure their horses are completely protected from any of their conditions. Otherwise, their health might take a sharp turn, compromising the horse’s life expectancy. But if they still got affected somehow, all that’s left for you to do is the following:

Take Prescribed Medication

Most of these disorders require a veterinarian’s attention. After all, there’s no guarantee any ‘do it yourself’ solution might work without risking the horse’s health even further. So, after having a veterinarian check on the equine, it’s best to follow their recommended solution as soon as possible, whether it’s surgery or medication. 

Nourish Nutrients

A horse’s diet plays a significant role in its health. Considering that’s how horses receive nutrients, what they eat can easily determine whether or not they can remain in good shape. Ideally, forage helps guarantee the horse’s digestive tract continues to function smoothly. Therefore, it’s highly recommended you give that to your horse as much as possible throughout the day. But make sure to stick to a feeding regimen. Otherwise, you might do more harm than good in stressing it out every time you change the time it’s about to eat.

Change Feeding Practices 

How you feed your horse can determine its likelihood of getting a digestive disorder. A horse’s digestive process is divided into two: foregut and hindgut digestion.

Consisting of a simple stomach and the small intestine, the foregut is where the digestive tract begins. A horse’s stomach has the food passing through quickly, allowing the horse to graze throughout the day. The task of breaking down food occurs in the small intestine since it contains enzymes to do that job thoroughly.

Once the food is processed, the hindgut steps in to absorb the energy from the broken-down food. Here, fibrous plants are turned into fatty acids to create more energy. Because of how long-winded a horse’s digestive tract is, this makes it susceptible to blockages, especially if the fibrous plants are extremely dense.

Considering hay is fibrous plant material, feeding that to your horse first should kickstart its digestive tract better. So, once you feed it grain, it’ll be processed in the foregut better. This way, it lowers the chance for the horse to experience abdominal discomfort or disease.


Digestive disorders are an equestrian’s worst nightmare. Since your horse’s diet plays a crucial role in its health, to have it affected in any way will deal a huge blow to its performance. But the best way to protect your horse from them is by knowing how to properly care for them. Know what you’re dealing with and how to handle them once they get infected.