By Don Blazer
Trichobezoars, enteroliths and phosphatic calculi can be lurking within your horse.
All are concretions found in the large intestine, and sometimes, although rarely, in the horse’s stomach.
Concretions, as you may have guessed, are internal stones, about as hard as concrete.
These infernal internal stones are made up of undigested material. They can easily attain a diameter of five to six inches, and are often much larger.
The ordinary weight for phosphatic calculi, which look like rounded and polished stones, is two to three pounds. In exceptional cases they have tripped the scales at 16 pounds.
Of course, no matter the size, they are not good for your horse.
We don’t know everything we should about concretions, but we have some pretty good ideas.
We don’t know everything about how and why they develop, but we do know they develop and cause trouble a lot more frequently in horses which eat a lot of alfalfa. The Center of Equine Health, University of California, Davis, recommends feeding oat or grass hay to reduce the incidence of enteroliths, citing the fact that 98 per cent of horses with enteroliths had a diet of 50 per cent or more alfalfa.
Interestingly, there is no factor other than alfalfa hay that comes anywhere close to being that strongly connected to enteroliths. In addition, the problem of concretions is much bigger in California and other alfalfa rich states than in areas where there is little or no alfalfa.
And you are correct…even though we know that, there are reasons, other than it is abundant in some areas, to feed alfalfa, such as upping the protein level in particular cases. (Alfalfa can be as high as 21 per cent in protein).
We know that concretions involve the presence of indigestible particles, such as small pieces of iron or steel, string, plastic or a bit of rubber. Check your horse’s feed for foreign objects and feed in a manger on the ground rather than directly on the ground.
In the case of phosphatic calculi, it has been noted a predisposing, though not an exciting cause, is the consumption of foods rich in phosphates, such as bran. Lots of people like to feed bran or a bran mash weekly…it’s probably a good idea to reduce or eliminate bran from a horse’s diet.
Trichobezoars are a very specific kind of concretion made up of hair; a trichobezoar then is nothing more than a hair ball.
An enterolith is not very distinguished; it can be a concretion of any kind.
Concretions can achieve a large size without causing problems. In some cases they are passed in manure; in some cases they simply remain in a portion of the intestine and do not seem to cause discomfort.
There is no characteristic symptom that can determine the presence of concretions, but reoccurring colic without good reason might suggest a trichobezoar or enterolith.
Problems develop when the concretion is dislodged and becomes an obstruction in a portion of the intestine.
Treatment, other than physical removal, is limited to administration of strong purgatives and enemas. Such treatment can clear away calculi, but can also complicate matters, according to Dr. Jack Sales.
Unfortunately, trichobezoars, enteroliths and phosphatic calculi are being seen more often. Is it the abundant availability of alfalfa, or just increased awareness?