Curse of free faecal liquid in horses explored by researchers

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Special delivery : So-called "horse apples" are easy to deal with when not delivered in a watery mix.
Special delivery : So-called “horse apples” are easy to deal with when not delivered in a watery mix.

Dealing with horse dung normally involves the judicious use of a manure fork. The so-called “horse apples” generally roll on with ease, for ready disposal.

However, things can quickly get rather messy — for the owner and the horse — once free faecal liquid is involved.

Free faecal liquid is a condition in which faeces are voided with both solid and liquid components.

The solid phase can be typical equine faecal balls, or more watery and similar to cow faeces. The liquid phase is a brown-coloured liquid that can be voided separately or together with the solid phase.

The condition has previously been referred to as free faecal water and/or free faecal water syndrome. Its overall incidence is unknown.

The liquid phase can contaminate the tail, hindlegs and area around the anus of the horse, resulting in management problems that can potentially affect equine welfare.

The underlying causes are not known, but feeding wrapped forages or other feed or management-related factors have been suggested to be of importance.

Other factors linked to the condition include high amounts of alfalfa, being over 20 years of age, having poor teeth, and parasitic infections.

In a German study, links between the presence of free faecal liquid and intrinsic horse factors such as being a gelding, paint-coloured, and low in the social hierarchy in a group of horses were found.

Horses with free faecal liquid seldom show clinical signs of disease.

Get rid of that dung: Dung collection and composting is a key strategy in parasite management.Researchers in Scandinavia set out recently to learn more about the condition through a 50-question online survey of horse owners who fed wrapped forages. The questions explored their feeding and management practices.

The survey received 780 individual responses, identifying 339 horses with free fecal liquid.

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences researcher Katrin Lindroth and her colleagues found that horses with the condition included a large variety of different breeds, ages, disciplines, coat colours, housing systems and feeding strategies, meaning that almost any type of horse could be affected.

“Horses that were reported to show free faecal liquid did so with all types of feeding strategies,” they reported in the open-access journal Animals.

“But changes from wrapped forage to hay, to pasture, or to another batch of wrapped forage often resulted in diminished signs of free faecal liquid.”

Indeed, 58 percent of owners whose horses had the condition reported diminished signs of free fecal liquid in their horses when changing from wrapped forages to hay.

About one-quarter of the horses even improved by changing from one batch of wrapped forage to another batch.

Seventeen percent reported diminished signs of the problem when changing from any type of forage batch to any other forage.

“This indicated that feeding strategy may be of importance, but cannot solely explain the presence of free fecal liquid.”

The researchers found that horses with free fecal liquid had a higher incidence of colic compared to published data for other horse populations. Almost one-quarter of the horses with the condition in the study were reported to have had a previous history of colic, compared with a colic incidence between 3.5% and 10.6% for general horse populations.

“More detailed studies are required for a further understanding of the underlying cause of free faecal liquid,” they concluded.

“Further studies should include detailed data on individual horse factors, including gastrointestinal diseases as well as feeding strategies, in order to increase the chance of finding causes of free fecal liquid.”

The full study team comprised Lindroth, Johan Dicksved, Jan Erik Lindberg and Cecilia Müller, all with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences: Astrid Johansen, with the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research; and Viveca Båverud, with the National Veterinary Institute in Uppsala, Sweden.

Lindroth, K.M.; Johansen, A.; Båverud, V.; Dicksved, J.; Lindberg, J.E.; Müller, C.E. Differential Defecation of Solid and Liquid Phases in Horses—A Descriptive Survey. Animals 2020, 10, 76.

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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