Homeopathic Treatment for Equine Digestive Disorders
The following post was written by Dr. Joyce Harman of Harmany Equine Clinic. For more articles by Dr. Harman or to schedule a consultation or appointment, please visit her website.
The digestive tract is critical to the horse’s well-being, and it was poorly designed by the creator, unfortunately. So we are left to help the horse cope with an increasingly artificial diet, stress level and limited exercise. In nature, the horse has a herd, walks 20 hours a day and grazes on rough roughage during that time. The digestive tract functions best in the situation. Modern horse life often consists of processed feeds, confinement many hours a day, a lack of social structure and little exercise. Digestive symptoms from this lifestyle include abnormal stool (too wet or too dry), ulcers, and poor eating habits. Homeopathy offers many remedies to help these horses.
Before thinking about a homeopathic remedy, however, you need to look at your horse’s lifestyle in the context of my last paragraph. How natural is it? How much stress is your horse under? What symptoms tell you he/she is stressed? Do you see pacing, chewing, anxious behavior, herd bound behavior, poor appetite, poor hair coat (indicating lack of good health)? Does he/she turn his emotions inward and hide his feelings? What emotional state do you feel your horse is in? Happy, worried, aggressive, grumpy, willing, fearful, friendly—all these are words that can help define emotional states and will help decide what remedy to pick.
Also, what is the diet? A diet based heavily in grain, especially sweet feed, will aggravate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and will be an obstacle to a good response to a remedy. Damage done by excessive use of antibiotics also will prevent a good response to a remedy since the good bacteria have been killed off. Regular use of ulcer drugs and antacids are detrimental to digestive health. Continued stress will definitely aggravate many of the GI conditions, especially ulcers. In fact, if the stress (too much confinement, showing every weekend, no turn-out, etc.) continues, the likelihood of curing a horse of ulcers with a homeopathic remedy is slim. You would have better results with a continuously fed herbal supplement.
Digestive disorders are generally chronic in nature, so really need constitutional prescribing. Acute colic situations are different and can often be readily treated. Constitutional prescribing is best done by a homeopathic veterinarian who takes a complete case with all the details, then matches a specific remedy to the horse. In the next section I will cover some materia medica or symptoms that may fit different remedies. If you chose to try one, and it does not work, do not keep giving other remedies in hopes they will work, find some professional help.
A great first aid kit for acute colic’s can be put together and kept in every barn. Homeopathic remedies in their original packages keep for about a hundred years, so you do not have to worry about them going bad. I would get all the remedies in a 30C potency and use 6-8 of the little tablets per dose. In a colic situation, the first thing to do is to take 4 drops of Rescue Remedy (or other brands of this formula), then give 10-12 drops to your horse. Rescue remedy calms both of you. Next call your veterinarian. If your treatment makes the horse better by the time the vet arrives, it will be good have your horse checked anyway.
Ø Nux Vomica is the classic remedy to use in a colic situation for many different types of colic, from overeating grain or grass to an impaction. It is powerful, but will not cover up serious signs that your veterinarian may need to see. You can give one dose every 15 minutes for an hour. If there are no results, the remedy is not correct or the case is more serious than it seems.
Ø Colocynthis is a remedy more for a gassy colic, where you can hear loud gut sounds, often without a stethoscope. Your horse may pass gas, or it may be trapped and can be quite painful. The same four doses as mentioned above can be given.
Ø Aconite is always useful for a colic with a sudden onset, especially if there is cold or windy weather blowing in.
Along with the remedies, I recommend that a high quality probiotic be given. A liquid fermented product is often easier to give and has a better shelf life than powdered versions (ex: ProBi –Advanced Biological Concepts). In an emergency, any probiotic will help, even 6-12 human probiotic capsules can be given.
The horse’s personality plays a very important role in selecting remedies for ulcers. Since this is a chronic condition, a single dose of the remedy is given, or two doses on one day. Then you need to wait about 2-3 weeks for the remedy to take effect. Sometimes the result is slow to happen, but gradually you see your horse happier and more comfortable. Before you decide the remedy is not working, really think about any changes you have seen and keep a notebook with a daily journal.
Ø Nux Vomica is useful for horses who have a “Type A” personality, like to work and tend to have a bit of a temper. When these horses are hurting, they get very unpleasant. It is also very good for horses who have had a lot of drugs, and many of he horses off the racetrack.
Ø Arsenicum Alb is a remedy that fits horses with more fear in their personality, also those that are finicky about their stalls, like things neat and orderly. They may tend towards loose stool.
Ø Phosphorus horses tend to be friendly, happy horses, but can be sensitive to noises and a bit fearful.
Ø Lycopodium horses may get stressed easily, have a bit of diarrhea, gas or watery stool when stressed or anticipating stress.
Ø Phosphorus has the same personalities as above, with a watery diarrhea and thirst, maybe gassy also. Can be useful after Potomac Horse Fever.
Ø Lycopodium can have a variety of types of diarrhea, especially if the horse is prone to colic or digestive discomfort. Can be quite gassy, even with normal or soft stool.
Ø Arsenicum Alb is very helpful for the Potomac Fever types of projectile diarrhea, they can get quite sick, or be take a long time to recover from PHF. These horses can get quite debilitated.
Ø Sulphur horses tend to have a poor coat, can have a variety of symptoms, tend to messy in their stalls, and may be worse in the hot weather.
In summary, homeopathy can be very helpful for horses with digestive conditions. Be sure to examine the whole picture, and do not expect homeopathy to just replace a conventional drug; there often needs to be lifestyle changes as well.