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Colic prevention for horses on stall rest


My young Appendix of 26 years just managed to get a severe ligament/tendon injury. We are going to have the stem cell procedure done, but he will still be on stall rest for 4 to 6 months. What do you recommend for colic prevention while he is stuck inside?
– LF, New Jersey

Dear LF,

Unfortunately, a change in activity or exercise level as well as lack of turnout are two proven risk factors for colic that appear on this list that we compiled from two recent papers on colic*:

• Changes in hay
• Poor quality hay
• Changes in grain
• Large amounts of grain
• Lack of access to water
• Change in activity or exercise level
• Lack of turnout
• Poor parasite control
• Excessive use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
• History of previous colic episode or colic surgery

Your horse’s situation—suddenly going on stall rest due to an injury—is not uncommon but is also not ideal when it comes to his digestive health. As you suspect, reports suggest there is an increased risk of impaction in horses that have acute decreases in activity such as curtailing regular exercise or changing from turnout to strict stall confinement due to an injury (or surgery). Other studies have shown that increased numbers of hours spent in a stall has been associated with increased risk of colic.

Now that I’ve confirmed your worst fears, what can you do about it? Since changes in hay and grain-as well as poor quality hay and large amounts of grain-are also proven risk factors for colic, do your best to ensure that his diet is based on high-quality forage that stays the same day after day. Knowing that many barns are forced to use a variety of different types of hay (especially after last season’s drought) it may be a good idea to get daily digestive support going right away. If possible, any hay changes should be made gradually over the course of 7-10 days and I recommend adding a digestive supplement to help your horse transition to a new type of hay. Supplementing with ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics and yeast that stabilize the hindgut may ease the stress of fluctuations from feed transitions as well from abrupt confinement. If your horse is eligible, I would also encourage you to enroll him in ColiCare, our new colic surgery reimbursement program.

Finally, ask your veterinarian if short hand-walks with grazing are possible. Even getting out of the stall as little as 10 minutes a few times a day could help not only his digestive tract stay regular but also other systems like his joints and hooves. Good luck rehabbing your horse!

*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.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA SmartPak Staff Veterinarian and Medical Director Dr. Lydia Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. Dr. Gray continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country. She is the very proud owner of a Trakehner named Newman that she actively competes with in dressage and combined driving. In addition to memberships in the USDF and USEF, Dr. Gray is also a member of the Illinois Dressage and Combined Training Association (IDCTA). She is a USDF “L” Program Graduate and is currently working on her Bronze Medal. Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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Posted in Ask the Vet, Diseases and Conditions, G.I. Conditions, Nutrition

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4 comments on “Colic prevention for horses on stall rest
  1. Karolyn Sailer says:

    feeding him in a slow feed small mesh net bag would keep his “gut in gear”, prevent large amounts of non-salivated hay going in, and give him something to do to occupy his time.

  2. K.W. says:

    Keep a friend within sight at all times will help lower stress, and make him feel like the herd hasn’t completely left him, and if you have back door(s)open and leave the bottom door closed or if he respects a chain/stall guard put one up. This way they can groom/interact with eachother. Only do this if you know for a fact they are friends if not best friends. My horse is currently on stall rest w/ access to his small run for about 6 hours. So he has a red apple hung on his wall with a hole cut in it and we’d put low fat treats in it and that would occupy him. He also has a mare that he adores and they groom eachother or stand watch over one another if the other is napping. Also make sure his stall is frequently cleaned otherwise he may get thrush (been there). Watch his weight but make sure his healing body is still getting the nutrition it needs.

  3. Chris says:

    Consider adding electrolytes and or salt to feed to encourage water consumption, also soaking hay should be a given.

  4. emma says:

    Apples! Tons of apples. My horse has had impaction colic and my vet recommended Apples to loosen the gut flora. Apples is a natural bowel release. The sound of a horse farting or pooping is the best thing you can hear.

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