Question: I have noticed that after my 33-year-old Quarter Horse urinates his urine has a milky white color to it. Is this a sign of a possible urinary tract or bladder infection?
Answer: The urine of horses is a bit different than most other domestic species as well as man. Most animals' urine is clear and watery, while the horse naturally has mucous and proteins in its urine, often giving it a thick and slippery feel (a good article, but you have to buy it: Urination, Urine, and Urinalysis of Horses). Horse urine is extremely variable in its appearance, with normal colors ranging from light yellow to orange or red to quite dark, as well as milky. It can change color from the beginning to the end of a good-sized urination. After hard exercise in the summer it may be quite dark and horses who have tied up will often have very dark urine, which is a sign of a serious disease.
If you pay attention to your horse's urine on a regular basis and the color changes dramatically, that might be a good reason to check things out, especially if there is discomfort present, or any unusual behavior associated with urination. A bladder infection is usually accompanied by an increased frequency of urination with small quantities passed, with or without blood. The passing of urine is often painful, and the horse may stretch out and try to urinate, but then stop only to try again later. If there are clearly flecks of blood in the urine (not just a reddish color to the urine) an infection might be there.
Variations in hay, grass and food may cause urine color changes, as can variations in the amount of water or hydration level.
The chalky or whitish material seen is usually calcium carbonate, which horses can excrete. Feeding high calcium legumes such as alfalfa may increase the amount of calcium in the urine. Normally calcium in the urine is not a problem, but in a few individuals, the calcium can form stones. Usually discomfort will be seen associated with urinating. Send a urine sample in to your veterinarian if you see pain signs.
The best way to check out any urine you feel is possibly not normal is to collect a urine sample and send it in for a urinalysis. Be sure to collect it on the same day you take it to the lab or veterinarian's office, or get it the night before and put it in the fridge for delivery first thing in the morning. The easiest way to collect the sample is to put a disposable cup onto a coat hanger, and hold it under the stream. You do not need more than a few tablespoons and definitely do not need a quart jar full of urine!
So do not worry too much about the urinary tract, but do look for significant changes in urine, and especially for signs of pain or discomfort.
Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia. Visit her online shop, blog and Facebook page.
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