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How to Prevent Colic in Horses

With any health issue, prevention is far better than cure and colic is no exception. You can never eliminate the risk of your horse suffering from this condition. But there are things that you can do to improve your chances of avoiding an episode.

What is Colic?

Colic is a general term for severe pain in the abdomen caused by wind or obstruction in the intestines. Put simply, it is a bad tummy ache. The causes of colic vary from the relatively innocuous to the life threatening. Your vet’s challenge will always be to ascertain how serious your horse’s condition is and what treatments are most appropriate.

The Risk Factors for Colic

Unfortunately, stabling and competing increase the risk of colic in horses. The risks are further increased by poor husbandry. This includes the provision of mouldy feed and meals which are too large. It is important that horses receive good dental care as bad teeth prevent horses from properly chewing their food. A high worm burden could also lead to a case of colic.

Sudden changes in diet are risk factors for colic and are best avoided. High starch, low forage diets are troublesome and an inadequate water supply could result in problems.

As with humans, stress can cause or exacerbate health issues and this the case with colic. The stress of travelling, competing and any changes in a horse’s routine will increase the chances of a bout of colic. Long periods of confinement do not help and neither does crib biting.

How to Protect Your Horse

Always select feeds for your horse which are high in fibre and low in starch. If your horse needs more energy in their diet, provide this in the form of oils. Only feed your horse in accordance with their general condition as it is important that your horse does not gain or carry excessive weight.

Try to source feeds which feature controlled levels of starch. Starch should constitute a maximum of 20% of the feed. Keep meal sizes small (less than 2kg). Feed your horse from buckets or mangers as this will reduce their ingestion of sand and other potential harmful materials. Always give your horse free access to forage.

You should introduce new feeds gradually. Start by mixing a small proportion of new feed with your horse’s existing variety and then increase this proportion over a period of several days.

Ensure that your and do everything you can to reduce stress during travel or any changes at the stables.

Always provide a good supply of clean, fresh water for your horse to drink.
If your horse is on box rest, then seek veterinary advice regarding the level of exercise that the horse could tolerate as confinement may be problematic. Even a few gentle strolls can make a difference providing they would not exacerbate other health issues.


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