A Guide to Gut Sounds in Horses

As an equine acupressure practitioner, something I commonly use is what is known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the ‘Four Examinations’.  The Four Examinations use the five senses and are a way of gathering information about a horse before using acupressure.  They include looking, smelling/ listening (these two senses are grouped together in TCM), asking (asking the owner/ guardian questions), and touching.

For the listening examination, one of the most common things I will listen for is gut sounds (borborygmus)–the rumbling and gurgling noises which occur as food moves through the digestive system of the horse.  Any abnormalities in or an absence of gut sounds is usually a pretty good cause for concern.

But you don’t have to be a vet or an acupressure practitioner to learn how to listen to gut sounds in horses.  It’s a useful tool for assessing intestinal movement and digestive function and is something that I believe every horse owner should know how to do.

It can even be used to help a rider determine physical stress of the horse during heavy exercise (such as an endurance ride).  So I’ve decided to write a basic ‘guide for gut sounds in horses’, if you will.  This should provide some helpful information that any horse owner can use.

How to Listen to Gut Sounds

You can either use a stethoscope or just place your ear next to the horse’s side to listen to gut sounds.   Obviously, a stethoscope will enable you to hear more clearly, but I often just use my ear.  (Use care when placing your ear next to your horse’s side though as he may kick if he’s in discomfort.)

There are generally four locations in which to listen to gut sounds.  They are located in the upper and lower flank area on each side of the horse.  This is the ‘hind gut’, where digestion of food primarily takes place.

 

gut sounds

 

Here’s what you’ll be listening to specifically in each of the quadrants:

  • Upper left quadrant: small intestine
  • Lower left quadrant: large intestine
  • Upper right quadrant: large intestine and cecum (the cecum is a common site for impaction colic.)
  • Lower right quadrant:  large intestine

The small intestine tends to be fairly quiet while the large intestine and cecum tend to be a source of more sounds.

Types of Gut Sounds

There are a variety of types of sounds you might hear when listening to the gut.  Normal gut sounds will likely sound like a mixture of grumbles, roars, and even tinkling sounds.  There is no specific rhythm, but you should hear a sound every few seconds or so.

When dehydration occurs (either from intense exercise or not drinking enough), there will be a decrease in the frequency and intensity of gut sounds.

Silence could indicate several things–gas, impending diarrhea, or impaction.  Again, if you listen to all four quadrants and don’t hear anything, a call to your vet is advised!

Faint tinkling sounds could indicate ulcers or possibly an infection, but this is something that a vet would need to diagnose.   A constant rumbling likely indicates diarrhea.

Obviously, if the horse is showing other signs of distress such as not eating, lethargy, rolling, pawing, etc, I wouldn’t even worry about checking gut sounds–I would call the vet immediately.

But learning how to listen for gut sounds is a good thing for any horse owner to know how to do–along with learning how to check the other vital signs.  Practice listening to gut sounds on several horses to get the hang of it.  Also, it’s a good idea to learn what ‘normal’ gut sounds sound like on your horse so you will know if they do become abnormal.

 

Ta-ta!

 

Sources

A Guide to Gut Sounds and Recovery

Know Your Horse’s Vital Signs

Checking the Vitals: Abdominal Sounds

Casie

Hi! My name is Casie Bazay. I'm a mom, a freelance writer, and a certified equine acupressure practitioner.

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17 Responses

  1. Dutch Henry says:

    Howdy Casie, – Very good info. Thanks for posting! ~ Dutch

  2. vlc58724 says:

    Thank you for this post. I always have a hard time hearing any gut sounds on my mare. My gelding on the other hand, rumbles all the time. I’ll practice on the areas that you marked, so I will know what is normal for her.

  3. Robynne Catheron says:

    This is really good info, Casie, thanks! I knew there were four quadrants, but couldn’t remember where the second pair was. I’m usually content with hearing ANY sounds, but this will come in very handy if it’s unusually quiet. The winter we moved to NY one of my boys suffered a bout of impaction colic, so now I’m always thankful for noisy bellies!

  4. AnneMarie Azijn says:

    Question:
    is left/right seen from the horses standpoint or from ours when we stand in front of the horse and look at it?

    Thanks for the info.
    Two of my horses usually have quite loud noises of the gut, they are also both too thin – does this mean something to you?
    They eat the same as the others (hay with slowfeeders, constantly available) and whereas the other two are well in the flesh, those two are too thin.

    Thanks for your advice!

    • then5925 says:

      Hi Annemarie–right & left are the horse’s actual right and left sides (not from our viewpoint). As far as the loud gut sounds go, I’m afraid I don’t have an exact answer for you. I’ve read that loud sounds could be indicative of gas colic or possibly ulcers, but they could be completely normal for your horses too. . . If your concerned, I’d ask your vet though.

      • AnneMarie Azijn says:

        Thanks for the answer!

        Those two do indeed have much more gas than the other two.
        Even though they eat exactly the same…

        Should this be something to worry about?
        (I guess one can always worry about everything… )

        • then5925 says:

          Yes, our horses seem to give us plenty to worry about! (I’m that way too.) Do you live in a sandy area possibly? What do you feed your horses?

          • AnneMarie Azijn says:

            No sand here, all thick heavy clay on our mountains…

            They eat mainly hay, in this season also some grass.
            In summer there is little grass because we don’t have much rain, so it is only in spring autumn/early winter when there is some moisture and temperature still high enough to make the grass grow.

            But the wind is there all year through 😉 especially for these two!

            • then5925 says:

              I wouldn’t worry too much unless they’re showing other symptoms of discomfort. But you can always check with your vet if you’re concerned. . .

            • vlc58724 says:

              You know, I live in a very sandy area and worry all the time about my horses ingesting to much sand. So once a month I feed psyllium in order to clean the sand out of their guts. So far so good! 🙂

  5. susan holmes says:

    I have a mare that had very loud gut sounds she drinks fine and lots of normal bowels movement , my vet gave me a worming program and after that still loud gut sounds she did have a mild case of gas colic and walked her for a hour and then let her lay down she seemed very tired. she laid down no rolling and I heard her passing gas and a hour latter she acted like nothing happen. I feed her hay several times a day to keep her gut from causing trouble. what am I doing wrong ?

    • Casie says:

      Hi Susan, I’m not a vet, but it does sound like your mare might have excess gas. What are you feeding her? Having constant access to forage is most important. Either feeding grass hay in slow feeders (or 3-4 times per day) or having the horse on pasture is best. I would also avoid things like sweet feed and grains.

  6. It is so important to stay on top of these things because they cannot talk to us. Thank you for the great tips and ways to check on their health!

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