It is often construed that the past is full of incompetence and  ignorance with procedures that are inferior to our current modern scientific standards.   How arrogant and wrong we mostly are! Many of the skills and tools of the past were very valuable and resulted in success equal to anything we may do today. We as humans tend to become bored easily and we are always looking for the newest exotic way or process to make things easier or more profitable, if not actually better. For instance, stone age flint napped stone knifes have been shown to be capable of being sharper than our modern stainless steel scalpels! Go figure!

     Enemas may be one of these antiquated procedures that we look back upon with amusement, if not disdain, but hardly ever use in recent times on human or beast.  When I was in the hospital roughly 20 years ago and in much need of a MD ordered enema, that process was continually postponed to the next shift of nurses by the preceding shift of nurses. As I recall, I never did receive one! People hate giving them and receiving them!

    On this page, I would like to bring into focus how really valuable the enema can be for a diseased patient and even can easily save lives! It is really simple to use, cheap, and quite effective---three things that scare the feces out of main stream medicine! Pardon my pun.

     To the right is a photo of a 14th century manuscript showing how to treat colic by giving a wine, oil, soda salt, wild cucumber root extract in an enema.  This method was handed down from the Greeks.

    Even though the application of enemas can be found in the most ancient of medical texts in man's history,  enemas are commonly discounted by our medical establishment as anything more than a misguided, over-hyped, cure-all of old.   Enemas are regularly dismissed by most all MDs as only useful in a very limited sense--if at all, and relegated to more appropriately belong to our grandmothers' repertoire. How wrong they are! I might also add that the gastro-intestinal tract has in the latter 20th century and into this one has not been very well appreciated by modern medicine as an important component of over-all health. Sure, MDs make big money on G-I tract surgeries and other complaints, but in the larger scheme of things, the gastro-intestinal tract is just a side note in modern medical texts often to be ignored. After all, how can a pipe that processes food and evacuate waste products be very important? See the irony here?  Our ancestors put great value on the enema and what it could do to improve health.   Sure, they sometimes misused enemas. Often giving too many, too soon, but they were human too.  We need to reassess the value of the enema, know its limitations and go from there.

    Horsemen and Vets may be a bit more appreciative as to the importance of the gut even if mainstream medicine is not. We know what colic can do to a horse and we know how scours can cause death in hours.  Below, I would like to try to urge the every-day horseman that enemas can be very useful and is an easy therapeutic procedure that should be applied in appropriate equine health problems. By the way, it can be a life saver in young calves for you cattlemen out there as well!

     Perhaps the other group that really appreciates the value of an enema are the military rangers. They are trained to use the enema as I describe below in combat field conditions where no medics are around and there are limited medical supplies. They call this a "tactical enema" or a "Ranger IV". Rightly so! It is the next best thing to giving fluids IV!  The human gut will absorb about 250ml (or CCs) every 20 minutes or so.

    What can enemas do and why are they employed? 

1)   Cleanse, reduce impaction, lubricate, stimulate peristalsis,

2)   Hydrate, replace loss fluids,

3)   Nutrition,

4)   Medication route where other more customary methods cannot be used,

5)  Cool body temperature.

DIY Enema Recipes

Hydration formulas:


1 liter of water (body temperature)
1/4 teaspoon of salt (preferably sea salt)
6 teaspoons of sugar


750 ml of water  (body temperature)
1 tablespoon of sea salt
5 tablespoons of sugar


Simply buying and using commercial Gatorade


1 liter of water (body temperature)
8 teaspoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Muscle relaxation Enema (tying-up syndrome, etc):

1 liter of body temperature water
35 grams of Magnesium Chloride ( to make a 3.5% solution)

MSM enema

MSM (Methylsulfonyl methane)  .   .   .   . amount can vary, but not critical, I suggest 5-10 grams for starters)
1 liter of body warm water

Note:  For you cattlemen dealing with a comatose scouring calf,  chances are it is experiencing severe acidosis with the ideal treatment being a 1.3% sodium bicarbonate IV.  This expands plasma volume and assists in the excretion of D-lactate.  

If you cant go IV for various reasons, give it in an enema!  Measure 13 grams of sodium bicarbonate into one liter of warm water and you will have a 1.3% solution.  For a less than an 8 day old calf, give 1.5-2.5 liters per day.


Enemas.-These, when given for absorption, should be small in quantity, neutral or slightly acid in reaction, and of a temperature of from 90 to 100° Fahr. Like foods given by the rectum, they should only be introduced after the last bowel has been emptied by the hand or by copious enemas of tepid water. When given to aid the action of physics, an enema should be sufficient in quantity to distend the bowel and cause the animal to eject it. Simple water, salt and water, or soap and water, in quantities of a gallon or more, may be given every hour. The horse should be made to retain it for some little time, as the liquid serves to moisten the dung in favor of passage. Before giving stimulating enemas (turpentine 2 oz. in linseed oil 6 oz.) the bowels should be emptied by a simple enema of warm, soapy water. Liquids may be thrown into the rectum by means of a large syringe. A very good injection-pipe can be made by any one at a trifling cost, and should be constantly on hand in every troop stable. It consists of a funnel about 6 inches deep and 7 inches in diameter, which is to be attached to a piece of ordinary garden hose about 2 feet in length. Introduce this hose about 1 foot into the horse's rectum, first thoroughly oiling it, and pour the liquid into the funnel rapidly. For all ordinary purposes this instrument is very good, and passes the fluid into the rectum by means of the force of gravity. Ordinary cold water or even icecold water is highly recommended as a rectal injection for horses overcome by excessive heat in summer, and in febrile diseases to reduce high temperature, and may be given by this simple contrivance.
An example of an antique clyster syringe commonly used for enemas.
A work in progress. MORE TO COME!