Psyllium: To Wet Or Not To Wet

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I have an Arabian mare that I just moved to a farm that has very sandy pastures. She’s not brought into her stall much so she is fed her hay and grain outside, and we also have some grass that she grazes on. I’m worried about how much sand she may be eating, and want to try adding a supplement that will help clear that out. I feed her a pelleted grain and wet it down a little to make one of her supplements stick. Someone at my barn told me it’s not ok to add water to sand-clearing supplements, but I can’t get her to eat her other supplement without adding a little water. Is that right? I’ve never had a problem wetting down other supplements before, why wouldn’t it be ok to add water to just that type of supplement? – JD, Connecticut

Dear JD,
First of all, way to recognize that eating sand can be a serious problem in horses! I’ve included a link to another blog entry on this topic as well as a health article on sand colic below, if you or others want to read more about this issue.

Next, I want to make sure that you’re using the sand-clearing psyllium supplement (try saying that three times fast!) properly. Fed in small amounts daily, psyllium acts as more of a prebiotic, or source of food for the beneficial bacteria that live in the hindgut. However, when fed in larger amounts a few days in a row each month it acts as more of a sand purge. Since your goal is sand removal, I assume then that you’re just giving psyllium to your mare seven or so days at a time to help move any sand out of her system that may have accumulated over the past month.

Your friend was correct about it not being a good idea to add water to psyllium-based products before feeding as it not only poses a choking risk but also causes this type of supplement not to work as well. That’s because psyllium is a soluble fiber that forms a sticky gel when it gets wet. That “sticky gel” is what physically traps and carries out of the body any sand that has built up in the colon. So we want the psyllium to get wet within the GI tract and not before.

I have a couple of ideas for you to encourage your mare to eat her regular supplements as well as her monthly psyllium sand purge. Instead of wetting her grain to get powdered supplements to stick to it, why not try feeding pelleted supplements that are usually tastier and whose texture is better accepted by most horses. Also, some psyllium-containing supplements have smells and flavors that horses really like, so experiment with some different brands until you find one that she gobbles up greedily! You shouldn’t have to worry about your horse eating her supplements, especially not when they’re as important to her health as sand-clearing ones.

More information on sand colic

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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