Free Fecal Water Sydrome – Finally it has a name! My heart-horse Doc has had periodic wet poops and occasional stomach issues for years. Not diarrhea, exactly, but extra water that comes out with each poo… and sometimes before, after, or instead of the usual fecal balls. Since learning that this condition has officially been named Free Fecal Water Syndrome (or sometimes just Free Fecal Water) I’m feeling relieved that I’m not the only one searching for a solution.
For my horse, this mysterious condition seems to be worse in the winter, when he can have a messy tail and hind end for weeks or months at a time. Then, some years in the late Spring Doc would start lying down at about 11am – in the arena exactly in the center of my view from the house. He would be down in the recumbent position (with his head up) and I swear he would be staring straight toward my windows. Almost like he was thinking at me “Mom, I don’t feel so good…”
What is Free Fecal Water Syndrome?
Free Fecal Water Syndrome (sometimes referred to as just Fecal Water Syndrome, or also Free Fecal Liquid) is a condition in which horses produce normal looking fecal balls, but before, during or after dropping manure, “free” water squirts or dribbles out of the anus. Ugh.
For most horses, it doesn’t appear to be associated with any decline in general health, other than the skin irritation and management problem of the wet and messy hind end.
My horse Doc never showed more serious symptoms than this laying down and water with his manure – but I could tell he just didn’t feel well and that something wasn’t right with his digestive system. Until recently, there wasn’t much research or reference to FFWS online, so I have felt like I’ve been all alone with my questions… like:
What causes this mysterious condition?
In the early years of my relationship with Doc, I discovered that he is very sensitive (maybe even allergic) to oat hay, and if he is fed oat hay or even whole oats, it triggers his discomfort and causes changes to his manure.
How should I treat Free Fecal Liquid?
…more crickets. Other than suggesting I give him probiotics, which I already have on hand and give to any of my horses when they show any signs of gastric upset or dysfunction – no one could ever give me an answer.
I also wondered:
Will it get worse? Are there any long-term affects or concerns I should have??? How can I help my horse?!?
Now, with this official naming of the chronic watery poo, I finally have hope! Here’s what I’ve learned so far – and please PLEASE, if you’re reading this because you have been battling Free Fecal Water Syndrome too, drop a comment below to share your experience and anything else you’ve learned!
What we know about Fecal Water Syndrome
• its is an ‘unsolved’ syndrome (syndrome means a collection of symptoms)
• it is common in German warmblood breeds (my horse Doc is a European warmblood and American Quarter horse cross)
• Geldings and Paint Horses are more susceptible to FFW
• it does not appear to be related to dental health or worm infestations
• probiotics are often administered by owners to treat it, but there is no proof that a disturbance of the intestinal microbes is related or causes FFW
• Fecal transplants (also called Transfaunation) from healthy horses may be helpful and is currently being studied as a treatment option (although if FFW isn’t related to the gut microflora, I’m not sure how this will help)
• stress, diet and low-grade inflammation of the gut are suspected to be involved
• a balanced diet low in sugar and simple starches may reduce the symptoms (and is super important for all horses anyways)
• …and further research is needed to develop a proven way to treat it! (Um, yeah! See the references at the bottom of this article)
I know, it’s a pretty short list. I hope that it grows as I continue to research and experiment with treatments to help my horse. I noticed that much of what you will find to read online about FFWS is speculation, or written by supplement companies promoting their version of a ‘digestive health’ product.
Managing Free Fecal Water, Naturally
I’ve always given Doc daily Probiotics and some Chia seeds when I notice his manure getting too wet, and I put about a cup of Aloe Vera juice into his daily grain too, which seems to help a little. Recently I learned that the aloe can reduce the absorption of nutrients from the grain it’s fed with. So I’ve started giving him a separate meal for his aloe, 1/4 cup of Chia Seeds and some other stomach-soothing and immunomodulating herbs. That way, his usual meal of soaked hay pellets, coconut copra and Northwest Horse Supplement can be digested and absorbed as well as possible.
Equine Hanna Somatics® has also been helpful for making Doc more comfortable. He particularly seems to appreciate anything I can do to relieve tension around his belly or barrel, like Kinetic Mirroring his rib cage (click here to hop to a post where I teach you how to do this simple an gentle hands-on move with your horse).
Herbal Treatment for Horses with Watery Manure
I’ve been madly mixing and measuring herbs to come up with a perfect recipe to support my pony Toby who has been battling with recurring chronic laminitis/founder/IR for several years now. Since I’m already deep into researching, growing, drying and blending herbs, I’ve been playing with creating an herbal blend that helps Doc feel better and have more normal poops – and I think I’m really onto something!
After a particularly long bout of FFW making a mess of his hind end this winter, he is almost 100% better now as we head into Spring, and he’s showing no signs of feeling an upset tummy. I sent a sample batch of my herbal blend to a friend whose mare was having similar symptoms, and she said after 10 days she had really improved, and that when she ran out of my herbs, the watery manure returned.
Are Herbs the answer to FFWS?
I may not be curing Free Fecal Water Syndrome with my herb and superfood supplement, but I think my recipe is definitely helping these horses! I’m still tinkering with it, so I don’t want to share the details yet, but I will tell you this: It’s a mix of organic herbs and super nutrients, some that I grow myself and others that I source as locally as possible. One special ingredient is something my horses showed me they liked to self-medicate with back when we lived in Hawaii…
Why don’t I just buy one of the existing digestive supplements on the market?
Well, many of them contain ingredients like oat hulls that just won’t work for my horse. Others also contain added minerals, and since I’ve already got my horses on a mineral-balanced diet, I don’t want to add a stomach-soothing or probiotic supplement that is going to throw my whole program out of whack…
If you want to learn more or be the first to get notified when I have perfected my recipes, you can get on my weekly email list right here. It’s becoming a passion of mine, and I promise to let you know as soon as I have something solid to share!
Lindroth, K. M., Johansen, A., Båverud, V., Dicksved, J., Lindberg, J. E., & Müller, C. E. (2020). Differential Defecation of Solid and Liquid Phases in Horses-A Descriptive Survey. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 10(1), 76. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10010076
Lindroth, K. M., Dicksved, J., Pelve, E., Båverud, V., & Müller, C. E. (2021). Faecal bacterial composition in horses with and without free faecal liquid: a case control study. Scientific reports, 11(1), 4745. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-83897