Stress may be pivotal factor in faecal water syndrome in horses – study

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dungStress may play a role in horses suffering from a condition known as faecal water syndrome, German researchers suggest.

Horses with the condition pass normal faeces, but in addition faecal water runs out of their anus.

Various anecdotal factors such as an increased parasite burden, the feeding of haylage or dental problems have been suggested as possible factors, but the study team from the Veterinary Faculty at Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich found no supporting evidence.

Ellen Kienzle and her colleagues set out to identify management factors associated with faecal water syndrome among pleasure horses.

Owners of affected horses were recruited through a notice in an equine journal.

Forty-two responders were asked to complete a questionnaire on their horse. A fecal sample was taken to assess each horse’s parasite burden and blood was also drawn for analysis. Similar samples were taken from a clinically healthy stable mate in each case for comparison.

Thirty-seven of the horses were found to be group housed or turned out in groups. The study team found that a surprisingly high number of these horses were perceived by their owners as being at the lower end of the social hierarchy.

As a result, another 37 owners of horses which did not suffer from the syndrome were interviewed on their horses’ behaviour with the same questionnaire.

“Forty percent of faecal water horses were considered to be last or second-to-last in the hierarchy compared to 4% in the behaviour control group,” the researchers reported.

In addition, 62% of the faecal water horses compared to 27% in the behaviour control group did not defend their food against other horses.

The researchers, writing online in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, found no significant difference between the faecal water horses and their stable mates in terms of their parasite burden or blood analysis.

No factors related to feeding could be identified as being linked to the syndrome.

Geldings and paint horses were over represented among the faecal water horses.

The results suggested that social stress may play a role in the development of faecal water syndrome, the study team concluded.

They assessed the major risk factors for the condition as being of low rank in the social hierarchy, being a paint, and being a gelding.

Kienzle was joined in the study by Carolin Zehnder, Kurt Pfister, Hartmut Gerhards and Carola Sauter-Louis, all from Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich; and Patricia Harris, from the Equine Studies Group, which is part of the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in Britain.

Field study on risk factors for free fecal water in pleasure horses
Ellen Kienzle, Carolin Zehnder, Kurt Pfister, Hartmut Gerhards, Carola Sauter-Louis, Patricia Harris.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jevs.2016.04.098

The abstract can be read here

2 thoughts on “Stress may be pivotal factor in faecal water syndrome in horses – study

  • October 12, 2016 at 12:56 am
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    My 16yo Paint mare developed this condition approximately one year after I acquired her – 3 years ago. The condition is intermittent and can be severe to mild. The most recent catalyst was the spring vaccinations – prior to that time she had not had an episode for approximate 6 months. Two days after spring shots a quite severe attack occurred and did not stop. There was no change in grain, hay, water or turn out. My vet suggested BioSponge. Using a lower dose than prescribed, my mare was FW free within 4 to 5 days. She is an anxious horse but is also the alpha mare. I have a 24 yo gelding. They are stalled separately and turned out in separate pastures. Turn out is approximately 6 to 10 hours daily depending on weather. Slow feed hay bags are provided in the stalls and hay is supplemented in the pasture during winter months. I do have well water but the gelding drinks the same water and is FWS free. The mare continues to receive 3 tablespoons of BioSponge daily. If I reduce the amount, the FWS returns. I have switched hays from 2nd cutting grass/alfalfa to 1st cutting timothy/orchard grass – no difference. I added probiotics – no difference. I changed grain – no difference. Only the BioSponge was impacted the FWS.

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  • October 12, 2016 at 9:46 am
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    Left a message yesterday regarding my Paint mare. A thought occurred to me. At times I have my mare on a daily calming supplement. I do not recall if she has experienced FWS while ion the supplement. I will consuct an experiment and share the results. The other observation is that the FWS is more active at night when she is stalled than during the day when she is not. I linked this to lack of food to eat from midnight to six in the morning whereas during the day she has access to hay almost constantly.

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