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The Do’s and Don’ts of Colic Prevention for the Horse

By Martin W. Adams, PhD, PAS - Equine Nutritionist for Southern States

Colic is the term used to describe abdominal pain in the horse. While there are a variety of causes for colic, many are related to basic health care and what and how we feed our horses. Most cases of colic are not serious and can be resolved with minor veterinary care. But some cases of colic can lead to laminitis or founder in the horse, which can a very debilitating and costly problem.

Following are some dos and don’ts for preventing colic in your horse:

DO store all feeds or grains behind closed doors. If for some reason a horse manages to escape from their stall and gets into a feed bin or storage container, it can experience colic and laminitis from an overload of soluble carbohydrates escaping into the large intestine from excessive feed consumption.

DON’T allow horses to consume grain or hay that may be spoiled or moldy. Growing molds can contain mycotoxins (mold-produced toxins) that can cause digestive disturbances in the horse.

DO feed horses at the same time every day. Horses have very sensitive digestive systems, and if their feeding routine is disrupted, even if only by an hour or two, it may enough for some to colic.

DON’T feed hay or grain to your horse on the ground. This can allow the horse to consume excessive soil which may have a high sand content and result in an impacton colic.

DO prevent excessive weight gain of your horse. Horses that are fat are likely to develop lipomas, which can cause a type of colic, and many obese horses become insulin resistant, which predisposes them to laminitis.

DON’T feed too much grain at a single feeding. Research shows a direct correlation with larger amounts of grain feeding and greater incidence of colic, as the horse has a limited ability to digest starch in the small intestine. A rule of thumb to prevent excessive grain feeding is to limit the amount of a grain meal to a maximum of 0.5% of body weight per feeding (5 pounds for a 1,000-pound horse). Also, select a feed with higher levels or fat and fiber for horses needing large amounts of grain, as this type of feed will have less starch content and will be less likely to result in a colic situation. Southern States has horse feeds with fixed ingredient formulas and low sugar and starch content to minimize the risk of colic and founder.

DO deworm horses regularly. A good parasite control program can help prevent several types of colic caused by parasites.

DON’T over feed grain to your horse. Feed the minimum amount of grain necessary to maintain healthy weight and energy. Select a feed higher in fat for horses that are active and “hard keepers”, which will provide more calories per pound and allow you to feed less.

DO provide the same feed to your horse regularly. A change in feed (hay or grain) can cause colic. If moving a horse to a different type of feed is necessary, do so gradually, replacing an increasing portion of the old feed with the new one over a week’s time to give the digestive tract time to adjust.

DON’T keep your horse in a stall 24 hours a day. Research has proved that horses with regular turnout or exercise have a lower colic incidence than continuously stalled horses.

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