Your Horse - A Life Saver!

         Your horse can save your life…if he's got a stone!

         If you are ever suffer arsenic poisoning, your horse-if he has an enterolith-- may be able to save your life.

         Enteroliths or bezoars are stones that form in the intestinal tract of horses.  They are made of minerals - primarily magnesium, ammonium and phosphate. 

        The stones start to form when a foreign object such as a small piece of wood, twine, wire, sand or even a piece of hair becomes wrapped in concentric rings of minerals.

       When a horse has an enterolith he has a condition called enterolithiasis.  (Say that fast three times!)

       The cause of the stone formation is under constant research.  At this time it is believed that enterolithiasis is caused by several factors: genetic, environment and diet.

        Researchers at UC - Davis have identified three genes that may be associated with enterolithiasis.  Records have also shown that Arabians and Arabian crosses are more prone to develop enteroliths, making up 40 percent of the reported California cases.  Warmbloods seem to be less prone to stones.

        Stall confinement and lack of access to pasture decreases the risk of enterolith development.  It is thought exercise improves the mobility of the intestinal tract and grass dilutes the mineral concentration.

        Research has also shown enterolithiasis is more prevalent in California and the southeastern part of the United States.  Reasons are unclear, although a common factor is the feeding of alfalfa.

        Alfalfa hay has always been an element associated with the formation of enteroliths.  Alfalfa is high in calcium, magnesium and protein, which can create higher levels of mineral concentration in the large intestine.

        Research has also shown a high pH (alkaline) level within the cecum (part of the large intestine) is associated with enterolithiasis.  Creating a more acidic environment may be helpful in reducing the formation of enteroliths.  Adding a half cup of apple vinegar to the diet twice a day may help lower the pH level in the cecum (1,000 pound horse).

       Dietary recommendations for horses with a history of enterolithiasis or that fit the profile include offering no alfalfa, not feeding wheat bran (high in phosphorus), adding apple vinegar to the diet and pasture.  Insuring horses have access to fresh clean water at all times also lessens the chances of an enterolith developing.

       Colic is the first indicator that your horse might have an enterolith.  The symptoms may worsen as the large intestine becomes loaded with gas.  Colic symptoms are:

             • Refusal to eat grain or hay
             • Change in attitude
             •  Restlessness
             • Pulse, respiration rate, or temperature may be slightly elevated
             • Glancing back at the sides of the barrel
             •  Kicking at the stomach
             • Pawing or foot stomping
             • Yawning
             • Standing in a stretched position
             • Tail switching
             • Stumbling
             •  Groaning or sighing
             • Repeated laying down
             • Stretching of the legs while laying
             • Attempting to roll

        Horses with enterolithiasis may also be sluggish, unwilling to work or exercise, be thin and unthrifty and have occasional loose bowel movements.

        Diagnosing enterolithiasis is difficult.  The stones are usually discovered when the horse is operated on for colic.

         The fascinating thing about enteroliths or bezoars is the ancient belief they saved people from poisoning.    Apparently some types of the intestinal stones can absorb arsenic from food or drink.  The arsenate bonds to sulfur which is present in certain bezoars…primarily those which have hair as the center core.

       But I wouldn't rely on this method of avoiding arsenic poisoning.  In 1575 Ambroise Paré, a surgeon, decided to test a bezoar stone.  He purposely gave his cook poison and used a stone to treat him.  The cook died.

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Enterolith/Bezoar Stone