Herbal Horse Health Q&A

by Robert McDowall

Internal systems

  • Liver problems in horses
  • Mare has blood in urine, has trouble passing urine
  • Sore back caused by kidney problems?
  • Spleen and abdominal abnormalities
  • Help for Cushings Syndrome
  • Help for mild diahorrea
  • Are kidney infections common in horses?
  • Treatment for recurring ulcers
  • Aged mare has chronic diarrhoea
  • Horse sweats a lot
  • Heart problems suspected
  • Could lameness stem from kidney problems?

    Liver problems in horses
    Hi, I would like to know if there is anything called liver disease in horses or is it called something else? I would be very grateful if you could give any kind of information on it, thank you.
    Candy, US

    Candy, Horses do get liver problems. Now these can sometimes be called by the broad term "liver disease" but can then be broken down into all sorts of medical names and terms. The problem can be very mild with little or no symptoms to show or very serious with very obvious and visible symptoms.
    Things such as plant poisonings can cause liver damage, incorrect feeding can cause excess loads on the liver, and certain diseases will affect its operation and may even destroy some of the tissue.
    Because of its importance in the day to day activity of the body, if the liver is not functioning to full capacity it will affect a whole range of body processes right from the metabolism through to the disposition and temperament. And if other areas of the body are not functioning to full capacity then this in turn will also affect the liver.
    If you have a horse with liver problems we would be happy to provide some herbal suggestions if required.

    Mare has blood in urine, has trouble passing urine
    I have an eight year old TB mare who has blood in her urine, she also has trouble passing urine and looks quit uncomforable. Also she hasn't been as perky as normal. I was wondering if she had Cistitis? We had been giving her colloidal silver and this did help a bit with her flow. I saw your reply to a question about Kidney infections on the Horse Talk health Q&A, which also has trouble urinating as a symptom. Any suggestions regarding treatment much appreciated.
    Bruce, NZ

    Cystitis, bladder and kidney problems do happen but are not common in horses and any problems in this area should be checked out immediately by your vet. Cystitis can be caused by a bacterial infection or may be secondary to something else such as stones. Symptoms you would expect to see are frequent urination, straining, possible blood in the urine, dribbling urine and possible urine scalding of the vulval lips. However, some of these symptoms can also relate to kidney problems or as mentioned may be secondary to other problems. Basically you need to get this mare checked by a vet. For a horse blood in the urine is something I would be worried about. Make sure she is warm, and has a good supply of clean drinking water. You can keep giving the Colloidal Silver and if feeding her you can dampen the feed down with Rosehip tea. It is very high in Vitamin C, iron, copper, cobalt and biotin and is an excellent tonic for the kidneys, adrenals and circulation. Make it up using 4-6 teabags or 3-4 dessertspoons of the granules to 1 litre or boiling water. Allow to cool and use half to dampen the morning and half for the evening feed. These are not a solution to the problem but can be used a support in her treatment.

    Sore back caused by kidney problems?
    Hi, Is is possible for a horse to experience a sore back because of a kidney infection? A friend's Arab cross gelding seems persistently uncomfortable in the lower back. We have tried rest, Adequan, massage, chiropractic care, checked saddle fit and used orthopedic pads, and had his hocks injected-- all with very little or no positive change. The horse is reluctant to go foward and will stop dead, park his back legs out, and sometimes even kick out or squeal if the rider tries to make him go. In the last month he also urinates frequently during rides, sometimes as many as 2 or 3 times during a half hour ride!! We are at a loss. Any suggestions?

    Claudia, US

    Hi, Yes, kidney trouble certainly could make the horse very uncomfortable.
    Have you had your vet check this out as this little horse seems to have quite a problem? A very simple tonic for the kidneys and something for you to perhaps initially try is some Rosehip tea in the feed. Use 4-5 Rosehip teabags or 3-4 dessertspoons of granules to 1 litre of boiling water, allow to cool and use half to dampen down the morning feed and half to dampen down the evening feed. Because of the apparent severity of this problem you should perhaps initially use 1 litre per feed and can add extra teabags or granules also. This is an excellent tonic for the kidneys and adrenals as well as being very high in Vitamin C, iron and biotin. Get this into him as soon as possible, even if you have to syringe some directly into the mouth.

    Spleen and abdominal abnormalities
    Hi, As part of a mild colic workup, my vet did a rectal exam on my 13 year old Arab gelding. She didn't like the way the spleen felt, and did an ultrasound. This showed a lot of abdominal fluid (subsequent lab tests negative), and some "roughness" and "spottiness" on the spleen. Blood tests negative for infection or abnormal cells, and subsequent rectal was normal.
    However, the fluid and spleen abnormalities from the ultrasound have me concerned. The vet says if it is cancer, there is nothing to be done. Horse seems healthy, vigorous, shinny coat.
    Should I have him ultrasounded again? Ignore this? Start some kind of herbal spleen support treatment? Concerned in California,
    Rob, US

    Hi, The spleen is the main organ in the body maintaining the quality of the red blood cells which wear out after any cycles of taking up oxygen and discharging it to the cells. The whole blood supply travels through the Spleen and it checks the cells one by one and digests any which have reached the end of the usefull life. Therefore any spleen pathology shows up pretty quickly in blood tests.
    If there was any concern I would be prescribing herbs which support both the spleen and the whole blood cycle and these would include Yarrow, Nettle, Rue, Rosehips, and Comfrey. If I were preparing it I would give the first three as dried herb the Rosehips as a Tea and the Comfrey as an extract of the dried root made into organic cider vinegar.

    Help for Cushings Syndrome
    Our mare of 28 has Cushings Syndrome. She is in no pain but pees a lot, drinks a lot has gone a bit out of condition and has become photosensitive to the sun (she is a bay). Her eye lids will swell on hot sunny days. We keep her well shaded and use ice packs. She appears to like this. She is quite sensitive to touch all over but does enjoy a bath with amwell eucalyptus shampoo. What would you recommend. The drugs the vet had suggested are quite servere with not so got side effects.
    This pony is used for disabled children she is only use for very quiet work three times a week. She loves the kids and gets quite upset if left out.
    Thank you for your time
    Kate, NZ

    The Cushings is a complicated one because the source is the pituitary and affects the thyroid, and unfortunately we cannot send anything over to NZ due to MAF regulations. It really requires a good blend of herbs to make an impact but you may be able to track down a herbalist in NZ that could help. There is a natural animal therapies college operating in Tauranga now and they may know of some good contacts.
    You will find it increasingly difficult to really keep weight on her and you may find her coat grows to the point where she may have a winter type coat all year round.
    Some at home feed supplements things you can do are:
    Dandelion: This will support the liver and metabolism and may help a little with the photosensitivity (this is usually liver related).
    Rosehip tea.
    Chamomile tea.
    Kelp (seaweed meal): for all necessary trace elements and minerals in a format easily assimilated by the body. 1-2 teaspoons per day.

    Help for mild diahorrea
    I have a young filly with what looks like very, very mild diahorrea; ie, she is often dirty around the tail area. She is not getting an excessive amount of grass, and no extra hard feed. She is running with two other horses who do not have any problems.
    Her drenching is up to date, and she is also up to date with her tetanus and strangles boosters. While she was in work I did not notice these symptoms.
    Could she just be a horse who needs more hard feed than grass?

    I would always be concerned if a horse is dirtier than normal but it is not likely a product of the diet so much. After all they were designed to cope with a diet which varied seasonally quite a bit. That is to say much more dried grasses and grains in winter during which time they would lose quite a lot of condition and then back lighter and looking for condition in the spring and so on with the cycle. In other words, whatever is in the paddock in any particular season is probably right for them and we should attempt to mimic the seasonal cycle if we can. Drenches damage and weaken the gut and antibiotics for example decimate the intestinal flora. These could both show in symptoms which look like mild diarrhoea. Put her on to meadow hay along with a daily dose of Chamomile Flowers made into a tea. 10 tea bags or 1/3 cup bulk per litre of boiling water. This dose to be mixed with a 1/3 cup of Slippery Elm bark powder and used to dampen down one feed of the day. After the stool returns to normal continue for 8 weeks and introduce a little fresh garlic into the diet. A couple of cloves twice or three times per week. Consider natural drenching. This type of program will rehabilitate the mucosa lining the whole of the gut wall, normalise intestinal flora and re-balance the digestive function.

    Are kidney infections common in horses?
    Hi, Are kidney infections common in horses and what are some symptoms? Alyssa, US

    Kidney infections or conditions, although not exactly common, do occur quite regularly in horses. Signs are similar to those of people with kidney problems. Trouble urinating, excess (or not enough) urination, strong smelling or thick urine. Excessive thirst, tying up after exercise, sore backs, lack of well being, etc. There is quite a long list of symptoms that can show from kidney trouble but I am not sure how detailed you need us to become.
    If there is something more specific about this you wanted to query or required information on let us know and we will see how we can help.

    Treatment for recurring ulcers
    Can you recommend a treatment for recurring ulcers please? I have used the Bomac (Vetsearch, Australia) product Clean-Up which contains slippery elm bark and has its Vitamin B1 & B2 coated so that it isn't destroyed by the acid from the ulcers. This product did a huge job on my horse. He had extremely runny, dark green manure, never, ever sat or lay down, had rumbling 'stomach', he was a very grumpy and often aggressive horse), he would run out of energy and was extremely hard to keep moving. Had mild colic on a few occasions. He is now a pleasure to be be around. However, the Bomac product is expensive and I weaned him off it. He has had a mild bout of colic and I got him back on the Clean-Up. He seemed back to normal and I went to a show two days later - he went badly. What can you recommend?
    Heather, NZ

    For the treatment of ulcers we use 1/3 cup of straight slippery elm bark powder mixed into a paste with chamomile tea and added to the feed once a day. The chamomile tea is made up as 4-5 teabags or 2-3 dessertspoons of the dried flowers to 1 litre of boiling water. Allow to cool and use enough to mix the slippery elm bark powder into as much of a paste as you require. Use the remainder to dampen the feed. Chamomile tea is very good for the parasympathetic nervous system and helps immensely with GIT problems. The slippery elm lines the entire GIT system and gives it time to repair and heal. we recommend this be continued for at least 12 weeks as this gives the body a chance to completely repair and replace the entire GIT lining. This programme can be continued as maintenance with a horse and you would still do it every day at 1/3 cup of slippery elm mixed into a paste with as much chamomile tea as required.

    Aged mare has chronic diarrhoea
    I have a 24 year old part Arab mare who has developed chronic diarrhoea over the last few years. Her droppings are always on the sloppy side, and become quite liquid if she is put on grass which is at all green. Her coat is poor (including mane & tail), and in addition she has a sore which will not heal. Of course, I have trouble keeping the weight on her. Hay helps to dry up the droppings, and she will put on weight to some extent with large quantities of hard feed. Worming does not make a lot of difference, neither do various feed supplements. I noticed in your answers to a couple of questions your suggestion of slippery elm and chamomile tea. I have tried slippery elm before, added to the feed, and did not feel it helped, however maybe I did not persevere long enough - I worked my way through 1 kg and saw little difference. Have you any suggestions?
    dt, Aust

    older horses can develop chronic diarrhoea. Our main treatment of diarrhoea is 1/3 cup of slippery elm mixed into a slurry using chamomile tea (use 4-5 teabags to 1 litre of boiling water) and adding to the feed daily. Use the additional chamomile tea to dampen down the feed. You do need to use this for at least 12 weeks to improve chronic gut conditions. The more processed feed that is used the harder the liver and metabolic system have to work, but you are going to have to make a few concessions here due to the problem with keeping weight on and lack of feed. The Rosehip tea is a great tonic for the kidneys, liver and adrenals as well as being very high in Vitamin C and Iron. You could also add a little dandelion tea to the feed.

    Horse sweats a lot
    Hi, I just started riding lessons earlier this month. My instructor was working with a horse for just a few minutes, when white foam appeared under his tail and in the elbow area. Is there something wrong with the horse, or is it just excessive sweating?

    Sam, US

    Sam, When a horse is working hard the sweat will often foam. The racehorse on his way back to the unsaddling enclosure is an ideal example.
    When a horse is doing concentrated training, as in the arena performing exercises, they will often sweat profusely over the muscle area that is being heavily used or perhaps is not as toned as it could be to be performing the particular exercise. Horses will very frequently foam between the legs when working.
    If a horse is being asked to perform an exercise that is perhaps difficult for them, if they are getting upset or they are finding it hard to comprehend the instructions, they can also sweat heavily enough to foam.
    This is not a health issue or something unusual. If a horse is working correctly you will also quite often find that they will salivate heavily at the mouth and may even foam slightly there. This is meaning they are remaining soft and responsive in the mouth.

    Heart problems suspected
    Hi, My 18 year old horse seems to have heart failure. We want her to get scanned, but we'd have to take her in a float and she's absolutely terrified of them. She could have a heart attack! Even if we put one of our other horses in with her, that one could also get hurt! I don't want her to feel nervous or pressured.
    Tony, NZ

    Tony, What is leading you to believe that she may have heart failure? Do you have a good vet that could visit your property and give you a reasonable diagnosis without having to transport her anywhere. This may at least give you a path of treatment to try or perhaps some firm idea of what exactly it might be.
    We can prepare a mix to assist the heart, which, if it is the heart will show an immediate improvement. This would be continued for three months along with Rosehip tea and Hawthorne tea which would then become permanent supplements to her feed.

    Could lameness stem from kidney problems?
    Hi there, this is a great web resource for horses! I am in need of some help with my large 1/4 horse 8 yr old gelding. He is showing lameness. He has had chiropratic work and massage therapy but has us both stumped. He stands with his front legs stretched way out in fromt of him and his hind legs stretched behind him. His spine seems to be in proper adjustment. His muscles around the hips and up to the spine on either side of the spine are tight.
    He is very stiff when he first gets up from laying down and can hardly walk. Sometime it looks as though it is a hoof problems and then a couiple of steps later it looks like a shoulder or frontal spine problem between the shoulder blades. He is my big gentle giant and a great horse. i would appreciate any help.
    Kate Green, US

    Have you had your vet check him over? It may stem from kidney problems, arthritis, laminitis or may even be a form of mild tying up.
    It sounds very much as if he is standing in the urinating position and if this is the case he really does need to be checked out by a vet.
    Call your vet, make an appointment for him to come out and see if you can get a urine sample for him before he arrives.
    Also watch him over a period of time and take note of how often he urinates, whether the stream is constant, if it appears to be a full bladder emptying (or only a partial empty and then he tries again shortly after that) and what consistency is the urine (e.g thick and ammonia smelling, frothy, what colour, etc).
    Also observe your horses drinking habits before he arrives so you can let the vet know how frequently and how much he is drinking.
    Do this as soon as you can.