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6 Seasonal Horse Colic Prevention Tips by Dr. Shannon Baker

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shutterstock_129084368.jpgColic is probably the most distressing emergency in your horse.  Understanding the horse’s normal digestive system will help you to identify potential causes and may help you to prevent an episode of colic in your horse.

Horses have digestive tracts that are designed to graze on high fiber forages all day long, providing the necessary roughage to the microbes in the hindgut for optimal digestion. Constant walking and chewing encourages normal intestinal motility. The common practice of keeping a horse in a stall, feeding twice a day, and feeding diets that are high in grains and soluable carbohydrates, creates stress on the horse's digestive tract and predisposes the horse to colic. 

What is Colic in Horses?

Horse Colic is simply abdominal pain, and is typically caused by gas, an intestinal impaction or blockage, or an intestinal twist or displacement.  These physical causes are usually triggered by a change in diet or a change in weather.  While we cannot control the weather, following these simple rules will help prevent many episodes of colic:

  1. Feed your horse the way his digestive tract was designed to be fed: this will be the number one way you can prevent colic in your horse.  This means keeping them out on pasture grazing high fiber forages most of the day, and feeding small amounts of grain as a supplement based on your horse’s energy requirements for growth, work, or pregnancy and lactation.  If pasture is limited, then high quality hay should be provided to supply the horse’s requirements for roughage, ideally split up in multiple meals throughout the day.  If your horse has a special need, like dental problems or laminitis, feeding will be more complicated and you will need to discuss these special needs with your veterinarian.   
  2. Prevent abrupt changes in your horse’s diet:  Any change in diet, including a new batch of hay, a change in type or amount of grain fed, or a change in access to pasture (especially a very green pasture), should be made gradually, over a course of 10-14 days, to allow the bacteria in your horse’s GI tract to adjust. 
  3. Always provide free access to clean water: Mild dehydration can easily cause colic due to impaction.  Electric heaters are convenient to prevent freezing of water troughs, however, they must be properly maintained to prevent malfunctioning and inadvertent electric shocks that will keep your horse from drinking. 
  4. Deworm according to a rotational deworming schedule or according to a fecal count by your veterinarian. 
  5. Restore the normal intestinal bacteria after deworming, or after being on antibiotics, with probiotics.  While dewormers and antibiotics are needed to prevent or treat infection, they may also kill the normal intestinal bacteria the horse needs to digest fiber.  Feed a horse digestive aid like Manna Pro's Opti-Zyme for at least 3 days after deworming or ending antibiotics. 
  6. Prevent sand in your horse’s diet:  Sand can irritate the lining of your horse’s intestines and cause colic.  Overgrazing pastures and feeding hay or grain on the ground should be avoided. 

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Dr. Shannon Baker DVM

Dr. Shannon Baker DVM

Dr. Shannon Baker graduated from the University of Missouri, College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002 with her DVM degree. After vet school, she completed an Equine Internship at MU. She currently owns Heartland Veterinary Services, a full service equine ambulatory practice with an emphasis in equine dentistry.


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