Everything you need to know to help keep your horse’s digestive system balanced and healthy.
What is colic?
Colic is a general, catch-all term used to refer to any sort of abdominal pain in horses (in layman’s terms, it’s a belly ache).
While some cases may be so mild that you don’t even notice, a severe case of colic is a medical emergency. In fact, colic is responsible for more deaths in horses than any other condition.
Yikes! What can I do?
The best thing you can do for your horse is get educated (this article is a great place to start!). Knowing the risk factors can help you make smart management and dietary changes. Learning the warning signs can help you catch an episode early on, improving your horse’s chances of recovery. Last but not least, there are several supplement ingredients that have been clinically studied for their effect on digestive health.
Is my horse at risk?
The following risk factors have been proven* to increase a horse’s chances of experiencing a colic episode.
RISK: Increased stall time
A sudden increase in stall time, like an injured horse put on stall rest, can cause disruptions in normal digestive processes.
Maximize turnout time to keep your horse moving (and ideally grazing) to support normal gut motility. If you can’t turn out, try hand-walking and hand-grazing to mimic that natural meandering behavior.
RISK: Hay and grain changes
Changing your horse’s grain (type or amount) increases his risk of colic up to five times, while changes in hay increase the risk of colic a startling 10 times!
Keep your horse’s diet as consistent as possible. If you have to change feed or hay, make the change as gradually as you can (ideally over 7-10 days), and look for a digestive health supplement with yeast, probiotics and enzymes, which help keep the microbes of the hindgut happy during feed transitions.
Heavy parasite loads may cause intestinal inflammation, predisposing horses to GI disturbance.
Keep your horse on a deworming program tailored to his individual needs.
RISK: Change in activity level
Changing your horse’s exercise routine (whether increasing or decreasing workload) has been linked to digestive upset.
Once again, it’s best to make changes as slowly as possible, and consider adding a digestive health supplement for support.
RISK: Ingesting sand
Horses turned out on sandy soil can accidentally take in sand, which builds up in the horse’s digestive tract and may cause loose stool and other digestive upset.
Healthy hydration is essential for healthy digestion. Without adequate water intake, horses may be at a greater risk for GI trouble, including impaction.
*Cohen ND, Factors predisposing to colic, 8th Congress on Equine Medicine and Surgery, 2003 White NA, Equine Colic II: Causes and risks for colic, 52nd Annual Convention of AAEP, 2006.
Research shows that…
…prebiotics can reduce disruption in the cecum and colon and inhibit the absorption of harmful bacteria in the hindgut.
…yeast can improve fiber digestion and assist the beneficial bacteria of the cecum in adjusting to feed changes.
Warning signs of colic
Tell-tale signs of potential GI upset:
• Looking at, kicking or biting abdomen
• Repeatedly lying down and getting up
• Sitting in a dog-like position or lying on the back
• Lip curling (Flehmen response)
• Lack of bowel movements
• Reduced or absent gut sounds
• Not eating or drinking
• Stretching out as if to urinate
• Elevated respiratory rate
• Elevated heart rate