Ruth's Blog post # 2: "Avoid Colic"

Avoid Colic

Follow these guidelines to prevent recurring episodes of this potentially dangerous condition.
Colic is one of the most frightening medical problems faced by horse owners. Unfortunately, determining the underlying cause of chronic colic can be difficult, which means your horse’s colic will continue to recur. The following 12 tips for avoiding colic may help reduce the risk.

1. Make All Feed Changes Gradually - Studies have shown that a recent feed change is one of the most common risk factors for a colic episode. If you change your horse’s diet, do it slowly over a period of two to three weeks.

2. Schedule Frequent, Small Feedings - A horse’s digestive tract is designed for a lifestyle of continual grazing; his small stomach can’t process large meals well. If he’s not living in a pasture and must be fed in a stall, feed at least three—or even four—small meals daily. Small feedings are even more important in winter months, when pasture time is limited due to bad weather.

3. Minimize Carbohydrates - Your horse’s inherent grazing lifestyle means he’s best adapted to eating pasture or hay. Keep cereal grains such as corn, oats and barley to a minimum. If you want to provide him with a concentrate, try one of the many low-carb, pelleted rations widely available.

4. Don't Feed On Sand - If your horse is turned out in a sand paddock or a pasture with sandy soil, provide him with hay in a feeder to avoid the chance of ingesting sand with his meal. Sand can accumulate in a horse’s intestines and cause a colic episode.


©2008 Stacey Nedrow-Wigmore

Your horse should get at least an hour of daily exercise, either by being ridden or (even better) pasture turnout.

5. Offer Plenty of Water - Make sure your horse always has access to plenty of clean, fresh water, and monitor how much he drinks. Water intake significantly benefits the workings of his digestive tract and helps avoid an impaction or build-up of feed that could block his intestine and induce a colic episode. Impaction colic is much more common during winter months due to decreased water intake. If your horse’s intake decreases, consider soaking his hay in water or providing a wet mash to increase the water in his digestive system.

6. Provide Warm Water - When temperatures plummet, add warm water to your horse’s bucket every day or consider a bucket heater. Studies have shown that by providing warm water in cold weather, you can increase your horse’s water consumption by as much as 40 percent. This can go a long way toward reducing risk of cold-weather impaction colic.

7. Monitor Fecal Output - With impaction colic, it’s likely the only sign you’ll notice is a decrease in your horse’s fecal output over a period of several days. If you notice that he isn’t producing as many fecal piles as normal, try to increase his water intake. Feed daily mashes, soak his hay or warm his water bucket daily.

8. Deworm Regularly and Correctly - Parasite damage is another common cause of colic. Discuss a rational parasite control program with your veterinarian to ensure you’re covering all potentially harmful intestinal parasites.

9. Schedule Regular Dentistry - The first step of the digestive process is proper chewing, which requires healthy teeth. Schedule a dental exam and balancing at least annually—or more frequently, if your veterinarian recommends it because of problems with your horse’s teeth or mouth.

10. Provide Regular Exercise - Your horse should get at least an hour of exercise every day, either by being ridden or (even better) pasture turnout. Colic risk increases during winter months when bad weather makes pasture turnout difficult and riding unappealing. Make getting your horse out of his stall a priority, even when you’d rather be home by the fire.

11. Minimize Unnecessary Medications - As your horse gets older, he may experience occasional aches and pains. If you regularly administer medications such as phenylbutazone (bute) or flunixin meglumine (Banamine) to make him comfortable, keep them to a minimum and use only when necessary. Although very effective for managing pain, these nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory medications can be hard on your horse’s stomach and may even lead to ulcers—another potential cause of chronic colic. Use them when necessary, but don’t overmedicate. If in doubt, ask your veterinarian about an appropriate medication schedule.

12. Check On Your Horse Twice A Day - Perhaps the most important step you can take toward keeping your horse healthy is to pay close attention to how he’s feeling. A colic episode is much less likely to become severe if you recognize the warning signs early. If your horse seems depressed, is off his feed or just isn’t himself, take him for a walk and watch him closely. If his signs don’t improve within an hour, call your veterinarian for advice.

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