Causes for Diarrhea in Horses: Symptoms, and Treatment Options

diarrhea in horses

Diarrhea is a common problem in horses, and it can be caused by a variety of factors. It is essential to know the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of diarrhea in horses to ensure appropriate treatment and prevent further complications. Diarrhea in horses can occur due to infectious and non-infectious reasons. It can be a mild condition or a severe one that requires immediate medical attention. In this article, we will discuss the causes of diarrhea in horses, the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of this common condition.

What Is Diarrhea in Horses

Diarrhea in horses is characterized by the passage of watery, loose, and frequent feces. It can be caused by various factors such as viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, or as a result of poor nutrition, stress, or medication. Diarrhea in horses can range from mild to severe, and it can be a sign of an underlying condition that needs immediate attention.

What Causes Diarrhea in Horses

Infectious Causes

Infectious agents, such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites, are a common cause of diarrhea in horses. Some of the common infectious causes of diarrhea in horses include:

  • Salmonella: This bacteria can cause severe diarrhea in horses and can be transmitted through contaminated water or food. Horses that are exposed to contaminated environments, such as crowded stables, are at a higher risk of getting infected.
  • Clostridium difficile: This bacteria is commonly found in the intestinal tract of horses but can overgrow and cause diarrhea when the normal balance of intestinal bacteria is disrupted.
  • Rotavirus: This virus can cause diarrhea in foals, especially those that are less than 6 months old.
  • E. coli: This bacteria can cause diarrhea in horses, and it is often transmitted through contaminated water or food.

Non-infectious Causes

Apart from infectious agents, several non-infectious factors can cause diarrhea in horses, including:

  • Dietary changes: Sudden changes in the horse’s diet can cause diarrhea. This can occur when horses are introduced to new feeds or when there are changes in the feeding schedule.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, can cause diarrhea in horses.
  • Stress: Horses that are exposed to stressful situations, such as long-distance transportation, can develop diarrhea.
  • Intestinal parasites: Parasites such as strongyles, ascarids, and tapeworms can cause diarrhea in horses.


The symptoms of diarrhea in horses can vary depending on the severity and cause of the condition. Horses with mild diarrhea may only have slightly loose stools, while horses with severe diarrhea may pass large amounts of watery feces. Other symptoms of diarrhea in horses include decreased appetite, lethargy, weight loss, dehydration, and colic.


Diagnosing diarrhea in horses requires a thorough physical examination and diagnostic tests. The veterinarian will evaluate the horse’s overall health, including the color of the gums and the hydration status. They will also ask about the horse’s diet, medications, and any recent stressful events. Diagnostic tests may include fecal analysis, bloodwork, and abdominal ultrasound. The veterinarian may also perform a rectal exam to check for abnormalities in the intestine.

Diarrhea in Horses Treatment

The treatment for diarrhea in horses depends on the severity and cause of the condition. Mild cases of diarrhea can be treated with dietary adjustments, while severe cases may require hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy. Feeding horses with diarrhea requires special care and attention to avoid further complications.

What to Feed a Horse With Diarrhea

When feeding horses with diarrhea, it is important to provide them with a balanced and easily digestible diet. Horses should be offered small and frequent meals throughout the day. High-quality hay should be offered, and grain should be reduced or eliminated from the diet. Electrolytes and probiotics can also be added to the diet to help maintain hydration and restore the gut’s natural bacteria.

Horse Diarrhea Remedies

The treatment of horse diarrhea depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. It is always important to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment options. However, here are some potential remedies for horse diarrhea:

  • Probiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria that can be beneficial to the digestive system. They can help maintain the balance of bacteria in the gut and prevent diarrhea. Probiotics are available in powder or paste form and can be added to the horse’s feed.
  • Electrolyte Supplements: Horses with diarrhea can become dehydrated, and electrolyte supplements can help replenish the minerals and fluids lost through diarrhea. These supplements can be added to the horse’s water or feed.
  • Restricted Diet: Restricting a horse’s diet to hay only for 24-48 hours can help calm the digestive system and reduce diarrhea. After 24-48 hours, small amounts of feed can be gradually reintroduced.
  • Medications: Depending on the underlying cause of diarrhea, medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or anti-parasitics may be necessary. These medications should only be given under the guidance of a veterinarian.
  • Hydration: Maintaining proper hydration is crucial for horses with diarrhea. Ensure that the horse has access to clean, fresh water at all times, and encourage them to drink as much as possible.

It is important to note that some home remedies or over-the-counter medications may not be effective or may even worsen the condition. Therefore, it is crucial to consult with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment options for horse diarrhea.


Preventing diarrhea in horses is important to maintain their overall health and well-being. Good management practices can help reduce the risk of diarrhea in horses. These include:

  • Providing clean and fresh water: Horses should have access to clean and fresh water at all times. Water sources should be checked regularly for cleanliness and contamination.
  • Proper nutrition: Horses should be fed a balanced diet with high-quality hay and limited grain. The diet should be adjusted gradually to avoid sudden changes that can trigger diarrhea.
  • Avoiding stress: Horses should be kept in a low-stress environment, and stressful events should be minimized as much as possible.
  • Regular deworming: Horses should be regularly dewormed to reduce the risk of parasitic infections.
  • Good hygiene practices: Stalls and equipment should be cleaned regularly to reduce the risk of bacterial and viral infections.


Understanding the underlying causes and symptoms of diarrhea in horses is crucial for effective treatment and prevention. Diagnosis and treatment should be done by a veterinarian, who can recommend dietary changes and medications as necessary. Horse owners should also take steps to prevent diarrhea by maintaining proper hygiene, providing a consistent and balanced diet, and minimizing stressors. With proper management and care, horses with diarrhea can recover quickly and maintain good health.


Can deworm a horse cause diarrhea?

Deworming a horse can cause diarrhea as a side effect. The reason for this is that the medications used to deworm horses work by killing off internal parasites in the horse’s gut, which can lead to an influx of dead parasites and a subsequent increase in bowel movements.

How long can a horse have diarrhea?

In some cases, diarrhea may only last for a few days, while in other cases it may persist for several weeks or even months. Prolonged diarrhea can lead to dehydration and weight loss, which can have serious consequences for a horse’s health.

Should I worm a horse with diarrhea?

It is not recommended to worm a horse with diarrhea unless specifically directed to do so by a veterinarian. Worming a horse with diarrhea can further irritate the already inflamed gastrointestinal tract, potentially making diarrhea worse. In addition, some types of dewormers can have side effects and may not be appropriate for horses with diarrhea.

Can Alfalfa give horses diarrhea?

Alfalfa is a commonly used forage in horse diets and is generally considered safe for horses to consume. However, in some cases, feeding too much alfalfa or suddenly switching to an alfalfa-based diet can lead to gastrointestinal upset, including diarrhea.

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