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Equine Faecal Water Syndrome


Enquiries to the Dengie feedline about Equine Faecal Water Syndrome (EFWS) are increasing but very little is known about this interesting phenomenon. Inevitably this means many myths perpetuate about causes and possible solutions.

EFWS is a condition in horses where faeces are passed as normal but before, during or after this, the horse passes faecal water. The phenomenon is also referred to as Free Faecal Water or Free Faecal Liquid. Whilst the condition isn’t necessarily associated with weight loss, colic or other digestive issues, it may cause management problems such as soreness around the horse’s bottom and on their back legs. It can also result in significantly increased use of bedding materials which increases costs and work for the horse owner.

Pony with equine faecal water syndrome

Frustratingly the cause has not been established and so it is hard to determine treatments. Some research has been carried out using faecal transfers from healthy horses, as has been researched in humans with inflammatory bowel conditions, but in practice this has not been widely implemented. As with many nutrition-related diseases in horses, it is likely that there are a variety of causes all resulting in similar symptoms. Until more is known the following tips are what we would recommend for horses with EFWS:

  • Get the teeth checked – horses with poor dentition are more likely to have this problem as they are unable to effectively chew their fibre.
  • Are you feeding enough fibre? – Faecal water in horses can be an indication of insufficient fibre intake. We would recommend ensuring your horse has plenty of forage available, ideally ad lib while they are stabled and some additional forage in the field if grazing is particularly poor.
  • Digestive aids – Consider the use of a digestive aid, particularly one that contains FOS and live yeast. There are a range of supplements available on the market or alternatively, Dengie Healthy Tummy which contains prebiotics, probiotics and live yeast as well as adding fibre to your horse’s diet.
  • Make changes gradually- Try to make any dietary changes gradually where possible this would include changes in hay/haylage and grass as well as feeding changes.

Recent Study looking into Wrapped Forages and Free Faecal Water

A recent study carried out in Sweden and Norway tried to establish whether there is a link between wrapped forages such as haylage and free faecal water in horses. Data was collected over a year long period from horses and ponies that were over two years of age and had a history of free faecal water.

wrapped hay, haylage

The study found that any breed or type of horse can be affected, and it is not always associated with a drop in weight or body condition score. The researchers didn’t find a definitive link between wrapped forages and free faecal water although some horses improved when changed to hay. Equally, some horses improved when changing from one wrapped forage to another so it doesn’t appear to be the case that the wrapped forage per se is the cause of the problem. Interestingly there was also no link between the feeding of alfalfa and Equine Faecal Water Syndrome.

One finding suggested there may be a possible link with horses turned out on soil as opposed to grass paddocks. The researchers suggest that horses may pick up soil as they eat off the ground and this is an area that requires further research. It is likely that, as with many other issues affecting the digestive system, equine faecal water syndrome is a multi-factorial problem. The best approach is certainly to implement good feeding management and practices, but it is also worth considering that if a horse is turned out on a very sparse paddock, additional forage should be provided off the ground.

For further information or friendly feeding advice, contact the Dengie Nutrition Team on 01621 841188 or click here to complete our Feed Advice Form.