Constipation is a condition of the intestines in which for various reasons the faeces are too long retained, too hard in consistence, and voided with difficulty in inadequate quantity.
The causes of this disorder are many and various, the more common being continued feeding upon dry provender, insufficient and irregular watering, woody and innutritious foods, as in the case of forest ponies subsisting on heather, moss, and twigs of trees and bushes in dry seasons. In addition, it is also induced by sudden changes of diet, want of exercise, mechanical obstructions, debility, and imperfect secretion of bile and other digestive juices. In very young foals it is often due to plugging of the rectum with meconium which has accumulated in the bowels during the latter part of fetal life.
It is only in the most pronounced cases that attention is drawn to this ailment - when it is noticed that the faeces are discharged with difficulty, and after considerable straining, during which the back is arched and the hind legs are brought under the body, the act of defecation is completed with a groan. The dung is voided in small quantities, consisting of hard round pieces more or less glazed and dark in colour.
It is a common affection of very young foals, and the experienced breeder or attendant, whose observation has been cultivated, will suspect this condition if the new-born foal at frequent short intervals is found to posture as if to pass urine; he may not arch his back in the manner of an adult, but will evince signs of uneasiness, elevating the tail, straining, looking back, lying down at full length and rising again as if suffering abdominal pain.
Since a variety of causes contribute to induce constipation, they should be fully considered before deciding upon treatment, as the aloetic ball, which may answer well for adults with a sluggish liver, may be quite unsuitable for other subjects. For the young foal, where the rectum is plugged with a hard yellow substance, an oiled finger may be introduced and the obstruction removed, with a careful avoidance of injury to the lining membrane of the bowel by the operator's nails. A simple enema of soap and warm water, or glycerine, or the introduction of lard or vaseline, is usually all that is required, as with each day the intestine is developing greater powers, and the expulsive efforts are soon found to be sufficient to relieve the loaded bowel of its contents. If constipation continues, a small dose of castor-oil may be given, preferably in warm milk; and if the dam is not at grass she should be supplied with a laxative diet, which, acting upon her, will soon be found to influence the colt favourably. Some breeders, more careful than the average farmer, give in-foal mares bran and middlings and pulped roots for a few daws before foaling, a practice in favour of which something can be said, both as a milk-producer and for the special purpose to which we have alluded.
Constipation in the stabled horse should be guarded against by the bran mash or linseed prescribed by good horsekeepers, and an animal predisposed to hardness of the feces should be allowed an extra laxative diet, rather than given drugs. Green meat made into chaff with hay or straw, during the summer months, will serve the purpose of keeping-open the bowels in costive subjects, who would perhaps eat only the green food if offered separately.
An aloetic ball, proportioned to the size and breed of the animal, may be given where an early evacuation of the bowel is imperative, but as a rule the repetition of small laxative doses of linseed-oil, or sulphate of magnesia, is preferable to the administration of one drastic purgative, which is apt to be followed by inaction of the over-stimulated intestines.
When debility has been a contributory cause of constipation it may be necessary to give tonic agents and a more liberal diet, but if iron be one of the agents selected there is a risk of further constipation, unless corrected by more laxative foods. Nux vomica, in small doses, continued over a considerable period, may prove one of the most valuable remedies in restoring functional power to the muscular walls of the bowels.
As feeding errors are the chief cause, so will the remedy be found in a more suitable dietary, and each animal should be fed according to his requirements. The practical horseman need hardly be reminded that horses differ so much in the effect of food upon the alimentary tract that the peculiarities of each should be carefully noted and treated accordingly, instead of insisting upon any hard-and-fast rules regulated by market prices or local prejudice.