Medical management of sand enteropathy in 62 horses


  • Dr Linnenkohl's present address is Comparative Orthopedics Laboratory, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, New York 14859, USA. Dr Mayer's present address is Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center, 3901 Sierra College Blvd., Loomis, California 95650, USA. Dr Gold's present address is 174 W 400 N, Heber City, Utah 84032, USA.

Correspondence: email:;


Reasons for performing study

Medical management of sand enteropathy is common in equine practice, but the clinical features and outcomes associated with medically managed sand enteropathy are not well described.


To review clinical features, therapeutic approaches and outcomes associated with primary medical management of sand enteropathy in the mature horse.


Medical record databases at 3 equine referral hospitals from January 2000 to April 2010 were reviewed for cases of sand enteropathy diagnosed via abdominal radiographs in mature horses that were initially managed medically. Data were collected and descriptive analyses compiled. Uni- and multivariate logistic regression was used to evaluate factors potentially associated with treatment failure.


The medical records of 62 horses were analysed; 90% of horses survived to discharge and 50% of horses that had repeat abdominal radiographs taken demonstrated improvement in the degree of sand accumulation after treatment. Nine horses underwent exploratory laparotomy during hospitalisation, and colonic sand impaction was found in all 9, with a concurrent gastrointestinal lesion identified in 7. Four horses were subjected to euthanasia during or after surgery because of disease severity or complications. Need for exploratory laparotomy was the factor most strongly associated with nonsurvival.


These data suggest that medical management can result in clinical and radiographic resolution of uncomplicated sand enteropathy in mature horses, and is associated with a good prognosis. Horses with sand enteropathy that exhibit persistent colic signs despite medical management are likely to have a concurrent gastrointestinal lesion, so prompt exploratory laparotomy should be considered in such cases.

Potential relevance

Uncomplicated sand enteropathy can be managed medically in mature horses, and serial abdominal radiography can be used to monitor sand clearance. Surgery to evaluate for and correct concurrent gastrointestinal lesions should be recommended without delay in horses showing persistent colic signs.