Equine Fecal Water Syndrome (EFWS) is a new acronym tossed around for an old problem in the horse which has likely been present since the beginning of time. It is not a ‘new’ problem, but just one that we are now recognizing as a problem, which is sort of making a bigger deal out of an issue than what it really is. Despite the new acronym or name, the condition is important as it signifies digestive problems in the horse, but like any other condition, no two horses are often managed the same. Let’s dive into loose stools and equine fecal water syndrome!
Equine Fecal Water Syndrome is being defined as a condition in which the horse passes normal or semi-solid stools, which are then followed by water to some extent. Interestingly, this problem exists in humans and has for eons. In the human world, they generally equate this problem to irritable bowel syndrome or IBS, equating to malabsorption concerns.
On the other side of the coin, we also have some horses which lean towards loose stools consistently, rarely formed, and more cow-patty in nature. This is not the same as EFWS, but both point to an underlying dysfunction in the world of digestion for the horse.
In the world of alternative medicine, when there is water or excess moisture present in the stool or feces, it is related to digestive weakness and dampness. This concept of ‘dampness‘ is discussed in another article. The bottom line is that you have to think of the process of digestion as being like a fire in the belly. It is a fire which ferments and digests foods, absorbing water and nutrient to fuel and rebuild the body. Thus, when there are loose stools or water present, such as in EFWS, it indicates that the digestive fire or capability is not ideal, which can equate to malabsorption issues. This can be a primary or secondary problem in the horse. It is a common problem to see in the spring, as any veterinarian can tell you that does reproductive work with mares and palpating per rectum. The reason for this is the lushness or high carbohydrate content of pasture or other forage, which causes a shift in the microbiome and can overload that digestive fire, quenching it to a degree. When this happens, not all moisture is absorbed, and some escapes out the rear end.
In most cases of true Equine Fecal Water Syndrome, you can define it as being either a ‘deficiency’ or ‘excess’ situation when it comes to digestive function in the horse.
Equine Fecal Water Syndrome and Deficiency State
In Chinese medicine, they refer to the digestive fire or health as relating to spleen Qi, so in a case of loose stools, it is referred to as ‘spleen Qi deficiency‘ or weakness of digestion. The precise cause of this deficient state in the horse can be multifactorial and beyond the scope of this article, but it can relate to the diet, medications, over work, improper supplementation, and concurrent illnesses.
Generally speaking, in the deficient state of equine fecal water syndrome, these horses tend to have not just water in their feces, but are also more sluggish in the energy department. Many are lazy, lack energy, can be heavier set and overweight, have other health and immune related problems, and overall poor recoveries. This is a sign of not just lack of ‘energy’ in their digestive system, but overall body energy. Every cell requires energy. Their feces are also lacking in odor for the most part and may have mucous present on the surface.
When digestive fire is not what it should be, then this opens the door for dampness, which can show up as mucous, oily skin, congestion in the lungs and eyes, and even stocking up in the legs. It also is evident in the feet with ongoing thrush, white line disease and overall poor hoof growth.
How to remedy these ‘deficient’ horses with equine fecal water syndrome? We must rebuild that fire in the belly! The approach is not always straight forward but starts with evaluating the diet and medications. Some diets are just too cooling and shut down the digestive fire. Medications for the most part are down right ‘cold’ in nature and will shut down that fire in a heart beat. So, this is the first line approach, evaluate the diet and medications.
Herbs are fantastic for boosting that digestive fire. Some simple remedies are adding a small amount of ground Ginger to their meals as this can help to rebuild that fire, but a word of caution here! Ginger is not for every horse and is heating by nature! Too much of a good thing can push a horse in the opposite direction!
Personally, in these deficient horses, I like to use EQ Tri-GUT or preferably the EQ Tri-Guggul, as this combination helps to kindle that fire, reduce dampness, and aid in restoring balance to the digestive microbiome. Going further, some horses benefit tremendously by adding a mushroom called Poria cocos, to their regimen. This mushrooms is famously used in Chinese Medicine to support digestion and is neutral in energy, so no concern about overheating. Another herb that can be beneficial is Nigella sativa, which can be of tremendous value as it is mildly heating and has other healthy properties.
The bottom line in the deficient state of equine fecal water syndrome is that digestion needs to be enhanced! This is not done through probiotics by the way and often not through prebiotics, but through herbs which warm that digestive fire and interestingly enough, also support a healthy microbiome!
Equine Fecal Water Syndrome and Excess State
On the other side of the coin, we may also have horses with digestive problems which are in the excess category. This is totally opposite from the deficient state and generally relates to horses that are more high strung and often thinner in nature, or more athletically built. In this excess situation, the digestive fire is actually too hot. Quite the opposite! Here, the fire is creating havoc on the digestive system, causing it to malfunction. Many also have ulcers either in the stomach or hindgut. These horses may have a water component to their feces or even overall loose stools, but there are key differences to be aware of!
First, these horses generally have plenty of energy. They are not lazy or sluggish in most instances. Second, their feces generally have an odor, often quite foul in nature. Some may even have specs of blood in their feces. The reason for the odor or blood is the inherent heat or inflammation which has built up in their body. This is the key difference. The deficient horse is lacking this heat and the excess horse has too much of it!
If you treat or manage this ‘excess’ horse like the ‘deficient’ horse, you will end up with more of the same! You will get more ulcers, more agitation, more anxiety, and more heat! Don’t do that!
The excess horse is managed by cooling them down and reducing that digestive fire. My number one go to formula is the Cur-OST EQ Stomach. This is a nice blend to cool down digestive fire and balance digestion in this horse type. In addition, the diet must be evaluated as in most cases, the diet being fed is too heating in combination with other activities and lifestyle habits.
The EQ Stomach formula can be used long-term in most horses, often at reduced doses once the problem is managed, but again, the diet must be reviewed and corrected. Going further into the long-term, there are many other herbs and combinations which can be used to keep these horses under control, especially during the hotter times of the year. One blend is the Cur-OST EQ Cool Down, which is wonderful for helping to cool things down and benefit digestion as well.
One final general support option that can assist and support both the ‘deficient’ and ‘excess’ loose stool horse or the one with equine fecal water syndrome is the Cur-OST EQ Pro-GUT, which provides concentrated soluble and insoluble fiber. The blend of two potent fiber sources in the EQ Pro-GUT helps to maintain balance in the digestive microbiome in the horse, while supporting digestion and inflammation. It helps to keep the stools in solid form while also retaining healthy levels of moisture.
Digestion is extremely important in the horse! I hope these tips are beneficial!
Author: Tom Schell, D.V.M, CVCH, CHN