Researchers delve into the mysteries of free faecal liquid in horses

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The researchers assessed dry matter, osmolality, ash, mineral content, short-chain fatty acids and pH in the samples, as well as examining the physical characteristics – the amount of free liquid, sand, water-holding capacity, and particle size distribution.
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Subtle differences around lactic acid concentrations and proportions were found in horses with free faecal liquid compared to those producing normal faeces, researchers report.

Lactic acid is produced by microbial fermentation in the gut.

Researchers in Sweden and Germany set out to examine the chemical composition and physical characteristics of faeces in horses with and without free faecal liquid, conducting two case-control sub-studies.

Free faecal liquid, also known as faecal water syndrome, involves solid and liquid phases at defecation, in which the liquid phase is voided before, during, after, or separately from the solid phase. The condition may last from a few days to months and sometimes years, and it may vary in severity and continuity over time.

The cause has not been identified, but both horse-related factors – for example, a low rank in the social hierarchy, being of paint-colour and being a gelding – and environmental factors, such as changes in management and type and amount of feeds, have been suggested as important.

Disturbed hindgut fermentation has been proposed as a cause as it may alter the biochemical composition and appearance of faeces in equines.

Katrin Lindroth and her fellow researchers, writing in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, noted that information on faecal composition in horses with free faecal liquid is scarce.

The scientists, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the University of Leipzig, described two sub-studies. In one, 50 horses in Norway and Sweden affected by free faecal liquid were each paired with a healthy control in order to compare faecal chemical composition. There were three sampling periods.

In the other sub-study, samples from 32 affected horses, again paired with a healthy control, were sampled once.

The researchers assessed dry matter, osmolality, ash, mineral content, short-chain fatty acids and pH in the samples, as well as examining the physical characteristics – the amount of free liquid, sand, water-holding capacity, and particle size distribution.

In the study in Norway and Sweden, the researchers found that the faecal concentration and proportion of lactic acid (of total short-chain fatty acids) and water-holding capacity were slightly lower in the affected horses compared to the controls.

Other variables – the content of dry matter, ash, sodium, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulphur, and concentrations of i-butyric, n-valeric and total short-chain fatty acids, ammonia-N as proportion of total nitrogen, and pH – were similar in faeces from case and control horses.

In the German study, all analysed variables were similar in faecal samples from case and control horses.

The authors found that faecal particle size distribution was similar in case and control horses, but the proportion of larger particles (2mm and 1mm) was lower, and the proportion of smaller particles (less than 1mm) was higher in the Scandinavian sub-study compared to the German sub-study.

The researchers said that, to their knowledge, their work is the first to investigate faecal chemical composition and physical characteristics in horses with free faecal liquid.

“Case and control horses had similar total short-chain fatty acids, pH and osmolality, indicating that hindgut fermentation was similar,” they said.

However, the small differences observed between case and control horses in faecal lactic acid concentration and proportion, and water-holding capacity, are of interest for further studies, they said.

Lindroth, K.M., Dicksved, J., Vervuert, I. et al. Chemical composition and physical characteristics of faeces in horses with and without free faecal liquid – two case-control studies. BMC Vet Res 18, 2 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12917-021-03096-1

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

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One thought on “Researchers delve into the mysteries of free faecal liquid in horses

  • January 13, 2022 at 10:43 am
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    Thanks for this knowledgeable article. I am disturbed by the knowledge that the geldings often have this syndrome. The digestive system seems to be affected by various invasive interferences with the horses, including a strongly controlled and domesticated life.

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