When you hear the word “psyllium,” you probably think of sand colic, and with good reason. All equine psyllium products are advertised as a sand-colic preventative. However, it has more uses to help keep your horse’s intestinal tract healthy.
The portion of the tiny psyllium seed that’s of benefit is the thin outer husk, not the whole seed. The seed husk contains up to eight times more fiber in the form of hemicellulose than oat bran and is also high in mucilage. Soluble fiber, as the name suggests, is fiber that will dissolve in water. When water is mixed with the mucilage and hemicellulose in psyllium it forms a slippery/slimy mass.
Psyllium husk is the active ingredient in the widely used human bulk laxative, Metamucil. When psyllium is ingested by a person, it passes through the stomach and small intestine undigested. The psyllium holds water inside the bowel, making the fecal material softer, bulkier and easier to pass.
However, because of the more extensive fermentation capacity of the equine large intestine, as much as 50% of the psyllium may be digested by the horse. The higher digestibility didn’t interfere with the bulking and softening actions when used at the dosages we listed. Because the psyllium is fermented to an extent, it is also a probiotic, a substance that encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestine.
Equine GI Problems
We tried psyllium as a treatment for two common intestinal problems in horses: a tendency toward impaction over the winter months in horses prone to sluggish bowel activity with abdominal bloating/hay belly and for excess gas production. The response was excellent.
Many of our impaction-prone horses also had histories of episodes of “spasmodic colic,” abdominal pain characterized by decreased bowel sounds. Poor water intake was a frequent part of the history, and many were older horses with trouble chewing well and multiple arthritic problems that kept them from moving around much. All these factors combine to a recipe for impaction/constipation. When these horses were on psyllium, the volume of manure production was higher and manure was moister but always formed. Gut sounds were excellent.
We weren’t as sure what would happen with the other group of horses where excess gas production was a prominent complaint. Use of psyllium in people commonly causes more problems with intestinal gas. With the horses, though, gas production decreased, and within two days the bloated appearance had reduced. Horses that often passed small amounts of manure went to more normal volumes. Owners also noticed an improvement in general attitude, horses being more energetic.
We noted that horses generally have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward psyllium. However, when mixed with a regular meal, it’s eaten readily. More importantly, we were pleased to see that premixing the psyllium with water before adding it to the feed didn’t cause any objections.
When doing our initial feeding experiments with dry products, we noticed that horses given a powdered psyllium responded the fastest, while those fed pellets or granules either needed much more or failed to respond at all. For psyllium to do any good, it must have the ability to form the typical gelatinous water-trapping consistency.
Our Gel Test
We then experimented and placed one ounce, by weight, of each product into a bowl with a quart of warm water, while stirring gently for five minutes. The pellets and granules formed little gel compared to the powdered formulas. (See products chart, gel-test results.) While we like pellets as supplements because they tend to be more palatable and are less likely to wind up as “dust” at the bottom of the feed tub, with psyllium we found the pellet form’s poor gelling ability a drawback.
We then compared the powders dry vs. premixed with water (one quart of water per ounce of psyllium). In all the horses, the response to the premixed powders was more rapid and complete than when fed dry, although the dry psyllium also gave good results as long as the horse drank water normally. If you must feed psyllium dry, we recommend you also mix in at least half an ounce of plain salt to encourage adequate water consumption.
Dosage was another big issue. The dosage recommendations on the products we tried varied. With the pelleted psylliums, we fed up to 6 oz./day without seeing much change in manure. With the powdered products, optimum dosage appears to be 1.5 to 2 oz./day.
For horses with periodic problems with impaction and spasmodic colic, you can restrict use to only when you start to notice manure production dropping off or during other high-risk periods. For the horses with longing histories of low manure production, abdominal bloating and increased gas production, we found that daily dosing for at least a month, followed by daily or every-other-day use of at least one ounce per day, maintained the improvement.
It’s also important to note that psyllium powder is lightweight. A one-ounce scoop by volume only weighs about a half ounce, so to get the full 2 oz. of psyllium by weight you need to feed about 4 oz. by volume.
In our trials on psyllium’s benefits to intestinal health, the response to the powdered products was fastest and most consistent, with all three powdered products performing similarly.
If you’re interested in the herbal or flaxseed ingredients/benefits, then Sand Trap+DFM or Sand Colic may be just what you want. However, if you’re simply looking for psyllium, Uckele’s Psyllium Husk Fiber is the economical powder choice.
Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Psyllium Feeding.”
Click here to view ”Shopping For Your Horse’s Psyllium At Wal-Mart.”
Click here to view ”Psyllium Products And Gel-Test Results.”
Click here to view ”Does Psyllium Work For Sand'”
Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Select the Best, www.buyselect.com, 800/451-4660; Uckele Health & Nutrition, www.uckele.com, 800/248-0330; Farnam, www.farnam.com, 800/234-2269; Equine Science, www.herbs4horses.com, 800/479-3537; NaturVet, www.naturvet.com, 888/628-8783; Med-Vet Pharmaceuticals, www.unitedvetequine.com, 800/328-6652; Equine America, www.equine-america.com, 800/838-7524; Horse Tech, www.horsetech.com, 800/831-3309; Vita-Flex, www.vita-flex.com, 800/848-2359.