What is grain overload?

By Julia Hecking DVM, CVA

Grain overload put simply is when your horse eats too much, and when it comes to horses, it is usually stuff they shouldn’t eat, like old grain. If you suspect your horse has gotten into too much grain, withhold grain and try to determine how much, when, and what the horse has eaten and call your vet with this info.

So what happens when horses eat too much?

When you overeat, you generally feel bloated, uncomfortable, and your stomach starts to ache right? The same goes for horses. When they eat too much (especially if it is something they should not be eating) they experience the same thing, digestive upset, abdominal pain (colic), and diarrhea. However, with horses, this can become life-threatening.

Horses were not mechanically designed to handle abdominal pain since physiologically the food they ingest goes on a one-way trip, so when they overeat, the most common response is colic.

The most common signs of colic are pawing repeatedly with a front foot, looking back at the flank region, curling the upper lip and arching the neck, repeatedly raising a rear leg or kicking at the abdomen, lying down, rolling from side to side, sweating, stretching out as if to urinate, straining to defecate, distention of the abdomen, loss of appetite, depression, and a decreased number of bowel movements. It is uncommon for a horse with colic to exhibit all of these signs. Although these signs are reliable indicators of abdominal pain, they do not indicate which portion of the digestive system is affected.

Monitor your horse for:
– Signs of colic
-Temperature (99-101°F is a normal temp range)
-Healthy gums are pink and moist (Purple gums are a sign of endotoxemia)
-Laminitis( Signs of founder include: increased digital pulse in feet, rocking back on the hind end, reluctant to move, sore on feet)

Treatment for grain overload may include:

  • Dietary restrictions
  • Laxatives
  • Mineral Oil
  • Fluids
  • Anti-inflammatories