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Managing Fecal Water Syndrome – Naturally

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…”

Managing Fecal Water Syndrome

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?

Crickets.

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!

Sources:

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

By Alissa Mayer

I’m a horse-girl obsessed with Hanna Somatics and behavioral science, which led me to develop a whole new approach to Horsemanship, Riding and Fitness. Find me in riding tights, eating pumpernickel bagels and working from home with my twins playing nearby and my horses out the window. My mission? To help horses and riders (and mama’s!) to unleash their inner athletes and feel great every day!

12 replies on “Managing Fecal Water Syndrome – Naturally”

Hi Alissa, you talk about giving your horses aloe vera juice (at the expense of both money and packaging). I have found nopal pads (prickly pear) to be every bit as good if not better and freely available, at least where I live in Western Australia. If you’re not familiar with prickly pear it’s a cactus which grows very quickly in certain climates and offers beautiful fruit. I cut the pads, soak them in water and mix a cup a day with my horses feed. I haven’t had it tested but from my studies of the plant it’s loaded with vitamin C, loads of micro nutrients, soothes the gut, removes inflammation and improves nutrient absorption. I know you’ll google it if you’re interested, so have fun with that! Joce

My mare deals with this as well! I have done research myself and found that psyllium husk powder works if you do a 1/4 cup WET once a day until it resolves was what I researched.
I find it funny that you posted this right after I started researching this more in depth! I’m curious what blends you use and if it would help my girl! Looking forward to seeing more from you!

Hi Nicole – It’s interesting how some of us get onto similar wavelengths at similar times, isn’t it? Psyllium powder, and any of the other moisture-absorbing fiber-based products or feeds like beet pulp, should ALWAYS BE FED WET, otherwise they can expand too rapidly in the horses esophagus or stomach and cause ‘choke’ or colic… I have not yet tried psyllium for my guy, as I imagine it will absorb much of the extra water and improve the symptoms, but not provide a cure for the CAUSE. Since my horse seems okay otherwise, and is not getting dehydrated or skin irritation, I want to see what improves his condition without “cheating” by adding a feed or supplement that works like a sponge… Are you giving it to your mare, or is this something you have read? Can you share your source?

Hi Alissa,
My miniature pony, suffers from this every Winter, just as the grasses here in SA start to pop through. She chases these little tit-bits and ends up with very watery and dark poop! She is immediately taken off the paddocks and yarded (which then upsets her gut/founder/laminitis) because she can’t free wander and self-exercise! I feed her a product from Tasmania, Agspand’s Feedchar, a charcoal-based product. (It is meant to help with founder/gut health). It has eased a little, but I am also feeding psyllium husks atm due to the new grass coming through and the risk of sand colic! Keen to hear more about your ‘cure’. Cheers, Sandi

Hello!

So I am from the UK, and I believe my gelding is suffering from this! It started about a year ago when I swapped from hay to Haylage, he was choking on hay so I had no choice! After trying 7 brands of haylage, I finally found one that worked for him! Nearly a year later, he changed Paddocks and it started again! After swapping paddocks again, changin haylage back to hay, there has been little improvement! I feed Probiotic gut balancer which has no effect! I’m sturggling to find any treatments here in the UK as it is still such a new diagnosis! I am in touch with an equine nutritionist, so I am hoping she may be able to give me some ansewers! But your blog has given me some information to start thinking about!

Hi Chloe!
Thanks for commenting. I’m happy to help in any way I can… hopefully your equine nutritionist will have some insight or ideas for you. I would definitely try to find some aloe juice meanwhile to start soothing your horses GI tract asap. Let me know what you learn and what helps!

I have a metabolic Pinto mare I/2 pony, 1/4 Saddlebred) that suffers from this and I think it is related to feeding first cutting hay. In the fall -early spring she gets almost no grass but free choice hay-as long as it is the finer 2nd cutting there is no fecal water-if its mostly 2nd cutting plus she gets a couple of hrs grass in a grazing muzzle then she is OK. If I give mostly first cutting as they recommend for a metabolic horse then she has FWS. It usually goes away in the warmer months when she has 4-6 hrs turnout in a muzzle. She gets only 1/4 cup of Low starch/sugar grain to make sure she eats the Vitamin supplement twice daily. She also gets ground Flax seed & Tumeric w/pepper to fight inflammation. She does not act sick. I think the pasture time ups the Alpha Omegas to balance out the coarse first cutting hay…but its a guess.

My warmblood cross horse Doc, who suffers from FWS on and off, definitely has a harder time with coarser hay – especially oat hay. I am lucky to live on a piece of land where I can grow my own grass hay for my horses, and although we only get one cutting (we don’t irrigate) our meadow-grass mix hay is fine enough not to cause him any problems. Well, I shouldn’t say not ANY problems, because he still gets watery manure at times living here and eating this hay, but less regularly than he has in the past when on other hay, and most of the year he is fine… Thanks for sharing Liz! Have you tried giving her aloe juice in her tiny meal of grain and supplements?

I have not tried either psyllium or Aloe Vera-the latter’s issue with nutrition depletion concerns me as this is a horse that doesn’t need grain, just vitamins. I did use Bio Sponge (a type of clay) the first time this happened & it helped, but didn’t solve the issue. So I think psyllium or Chia will be my next step. Need to do more research.

Any of the stomach-soothers that work because they are viscous (aloe, chia, slippery elm, psyllium, etc) work because they create a barrier inside the stomach, and possibly further along the GI tract… and all can reduce the absorption of nutrients from any food that is consumed at the same time. So, the best approach is to feed the supplements in one meal, and the stomach-soothers in a separate meal several hours apart. Not very efficient, but do-able. I pour about a cup of aloe juice in the regular meal with supps and my herbal blend, and then I also found my horse improved when I fed an additional small meal or two each day with just a small amount of soaked hay pellets and the viscous stuff, like chia and aloe gel.

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