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Impaction Colic in horses: how to keep things flowing


I have a 10 year old Reg Tennessee Walker Mare. She has had impaction twice in the last 6 months. I was able to clear the impaction and she went back to being herself. However, friends have suggested feeding her Metamucil to keep things flowing. She has a large round bale of Coastal Bermuda hay, and I only feed grain every other day. I have a Paint mare and a QH/TWH cross gelding, and they are fine. I use a deworming schedule and rotate each time. Should I feed Metamucil every day? They are on sand, unfortunately I cannot seem to grow any grass. Could it be sand belly? – CL, South Carolina

Dear CL,

I’m going to address your main question first which is: should I feed Metamucil® every day? Unfortunately, while Metamucil is a great source of fiber for people, it’s a mere drop in the bucket compared to the fiber that horses are already getting from their hay and pasture-based diets. It does not serve as a laxative in horses like it does in people and will not help “keep things flowing.”

Its active ingredient, psyllium, is used in horses to assist with fecal sand clearance, and has been shown to work even better in this capacity when combined with prebiotics and probiotics. However, it should be given daily for seven days in a row or one week per month as a purge rather than as a daily supplement. When given daily, experts believe the “good bugs” living in the horse’s hindgut learn to use this soluble carbohydrate as food, removing it from the large intestine and not allowing it to form the gel that carries out harmful sand. There are several products to select from in the Sand Colic category so check them out!

What else might help your mare? You said the “d” word, deworming, one of my favorite subjects! However, it sounds like you might be using the old-fashioned rotation system which has been replaced by the more modern method of working with your veterinarian to first identify whether your horse is a high or low shedder of worm eggs by fecal exam. Then, strategically deworm when your individual horse needs it based on season of the year, pasture density and maintenance, and other factors. Also, make sure you’re deworming once or twice a year for tapeworms as well as treating for encysted small strongyles with Panacur PowerPak or Quest — these could potentially be issues too.

Once your methods for purging sand and parasites are “up to snuff” if your mare still develops impaction colic, you may want to consider feeding her a different type of hay or feeding it a different way. Studies not only show that horses fed coastal Bermuda have an increased risk of impaction but also that feeding hay from round bales is associated with an increased risk of colic. As best you can in your area, you may need to seek out other types of grass hay such as timothy, orchardgrass or brome, or even a grass/alfalfa mix. And this mare may need to be fed flakes from a bale separately from the other horses, even going so far as to put them in a small hole hay net or other device to slow her rate of eating.

Since you’re now separating her to eat, you may also want to consider adding digestive support to her diet to aid in maintaining a normal, healthy hindgut. Ingredients for hindgut health such as the already mentioned prebiotics and probiotics — as well as enzymes and yeast — could lend support to the bacteria living in her colon so that they don’t have to do all the work of digestion. Check out the wide variety of products available in the Digestion category. It’s not going to be easy, but hopefully one or more of these suggestions will help your mare!

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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4 comments on “Impaction Colic in horses: how to keep things flowing
  1. Stacy says:

    Hi my name is Stacy I have a twenty year old arabian gelding who I have on the smart pack senior flex pellets and at first the seemed to work but now he is coming out of the stall stif and when it comes time to work he is also stiff what else can I try

    • SmartPak SmartPak says:

      Hi Stacy,
      Thank you for your question and for using SmartFlex Senior! It looks like your already well on your way toward developing a great supplement program for managing your horse’s discomfort as she ages, but there are also some management strategies that might help. You mentioned she seems stiff coming out of her stall which is common in older horses. You could try finding ways for your horse to get more turn out time, or just less stall time in general, as it can be challenging for senior’s joints to be spend long hours confined in small places like a stall. Look into possibilities like an in-and-out stall, try get her out for more exercise (even if it’s just a nice hand walk around the farm), or see if her turnout time can be extended. In conjunction with getting her moving around a bit more, you could also consider adding a supplement with additional Omega 3 fatty acids which help support a normal response to inflammation. Consider a product like SmartOmega 3 or SmartOmega 3 Ultra. We hope that’s helpful! – SmartPaker Casey
      SmartOmega 3:
      SmartOmega 3 Ultra:

  2. Casey Colbert says:

    I have a Tenessee Walker that suffered recurring colic and finally had to have colic surgery.He is a six year survivor with a lot of effort on my part.The biggest culprit was coastal bermuda hay.He is now on Alfalfa hay, very low starch feed and soaked beet pulp.He gets minerals as well.I know that when we have drastic temperature changes it will be a problem with him not drinking so he gets a bucket of fruit punch gatoraid.It is like “crack ” for him and he will lick the bucket dry.He is my heart and worth evey bit of the extra effort to keep him going.Maybe some of this will help other horses.This has been an on going thing for years and I almost lost him several times til I figured out how to manage things.

  3. Request info of publications for mini-horse care and training, etc…….

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