The current slogan for Diet Coke is “Because I Can.” That may be a positive message for humans to pursue life goals, but as far as a veterinary treatment for equine colic, not so much.
Dr. Oliver Liyou, an Australian vet, posted on Equine Veterinary & Dental Services Pty Facebook page about using Diet Coke to break down a gastric mass inside a horse’s stomach when more traditional methods had failed.
According to the website The Paulick Report, Dr. Liyou was called to treat an eight-year-old stock horse gelding with symptoms including a dull, dry coat and otherwise poor condition, all tell-tale signs of gastric ulcers. However, during a gastric endoscopy, Dr. Liyou was was shocked to discover a mass the size of a football.
And that’s where the use of the fizzy brown drink came into play. Remember that urban legend that ascertained you could dissolve a tooth or a penny in a glass of coke? There might be some truth to it after all.
“Based on recommendations made by other practicing veterinarians and a scientific paper on the use of it treating similar cases, I chose to try Diet Coke to help dissolve the mass,” said Liyou.
The first treatment was using a stomach tube to feed two liters of Diet Coke into the horse. When re-scoped two hours after this initial “drench” the mass had softened. Dr. Liyou then increased the liquid treatment to three litres, and after two hours the mass had turned into “a soft, soup-like concoction in the stomach.” To flush out the stomach the horse was given eight litres of water and electrolytes to move the material. By the next morning, after only giving the horse access to water, the impaction was gone.
According to the original FB post, “the reason Diet Coke works is that is has a pH of 2.6 from the phosphoric and carbonic acid, so the acid, along with the bubbles, help to penetrate and break up the cellulose fibre impaction. Regular Coke has far too much sugar and could cause the horse to get laminitis. There were no ill effects from the Diet Coke or the scoping and fasting procedure.” The post also notes that the horse’s coat, body condition and energy levels improved and he continued to gain weight and be healthy in the three weeks following the treatment.
There have been other cases of Diet Coke helping horses and ponies with impactions, but it is not considered a gold-standard treatment by any means. In fact, Dr. Liyou is said to be concerned that readers of his viral post – which reached 1.5 million people and received 6.5 thousand likes – missed the point. His intent was to demonstrate the importance of gastric endoscopy to ensure that treatment is accurate – meaning to confirm gastric ulcers versus a stomach impaction. There are multiple treatments employed by vets to resolve such impactions, including surgery. Diet Coke is not the go-to, nor should horse owners attempt to treat their animals without the guidance of their vet. However, it is a treatment that vets may consider if all else fails and surgery isn’t an option.