The Veterinary clinics of North America. Equine practice2004; 19(3); 617-644; doi: 10.1016/j.cveq.2003.08.011

Nutrition for critical gastrointestinal illness: feeding horses with diarrhea or colic.

Abstract: Horses with GI diseases such as colic and diarrhea are often intolerant of adequate enteral nutrition. Nutritional intervention should be an early part of therapeutic management in such cases. Protein and energy malnutrition in critically ill horses can have deleterious effects, including poor wound or incisional healing, reduced immunity, and weight loss. Early enteral or parenteral support should be provided to supply resting DE requirements in the equine ICU.
Publication Date: 2004-01-27 PubMed ID: 14740760DOI: 10.1016/j.cveq.2003.08.011Google Scholar: Lookup
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The research investigates the impact and importance of nutritional intervention in horses suffering from gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhea and colic. It highlights the negative effects of protein and energy malnutrition in such horses and suggests early dietary support to improve their condition.

Research Overview

The researchers conducted an elaborate study on horses with gastrointestinal diseases (GI), particularly focusing on illnesses such as colic and diarrhea.

  • The initial finding suggested that horses suffering from these GI diseases had difficulties tolerating sufficient enteral nutrition.
  • The study contrasts regular circumstances in which horses would easily digest food and extract nutrients.

Nutritional Intervention

The researchers emphasized the importance of nutritional intervention as a critical part of therapeutic management in sick horses.

  • They claim that provision of appropriate nutrients is essential for the recovery of horses suffering from GI illnesses.
  • Furthermore, they advocate that the nutritional intervention should be commenced early to prevent severe health effects.

Effects of Protein and Energy Malnutrition

The researchers detail the negative impact of protein and energy malnutrition in horses, particularly in those admitted in the equine ICU.

  • Effect on Healing: The lack of proper nutrition prevents adequate incisional or wound healing. This is because proteins are the building blocks needed to repair body tissues.
  • Affect on Immunity: Poor nutrition weakens the horse’s immune system, making it more susceptible to infections and diseases.
  • Weight Loss: Inadequate nutrient intake leads to substantial weight loss in horses, further degrading their health and their chances of recovery.

Early Nutrition Support

After assessing the effects of malnutrition, the researchers propose that early support with either enteral or parenteral nutrition should be provided to these horses.

  • They suggest supplying the resting Digestible Energy (DE) requirements, which could aid the horse’s recovery within the equine ICU.
  • Supplying appropriate nutrients early on would alleviate the symptoms of the disease and improve the horse’s overall health status.

Cite This Article

Magdesian KG. (2004). Nutrition for critical gastrointestinal illness: feeding horses with diarrhea or colic. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract, 19(3), 617-644.


ISSN: 0749-0739
NlmUniqueID: 8511904
Country: United States
Language: English
Volume: 19
Issue: 3
Pages: 617-644

Researcher Affiliations

Magdesian, K Gary
  • Department of Medicine and Epidemiology, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California at Davis, 95616, USA.

MeSH Terms

  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Colic / therapy
  • Colic / veterinary
  • Critical Illness
  • Diarrhea / therapy
  • Diarrhea / veterinary
  • Enteral Nutrition / veterinary
  • Horse Diseases / therapy
  • Horses
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Nutritional Status
  • Parenteral Nutrition / veterinary


This article has been cited 4 times.
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  2. Shaw SD, Stu00e4mpfli H. Diagnosis and Treatment of Undifferentiated and Infectious Acute Diarrhea in the Adult Horse.. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract 2018 Apr;34(1):39-53.
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  3. Whitehead AE, Whitty J, Scott M, Lu00e9guillette R. Reversible dysphagia secondary to guttural pouch mycosis in a gelding treated medically with voriconazole and surgically with carotid occlusion and esophagostomy.. Can Vet J 2018 Feb;59(2):165-170.
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  4. Magdesian KG. Neonatal foal diarrhea.. Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract 2005 Aug;21(2):295-312, vi.
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