Dealing with Colic Pains

My horse is experiencing colic pains almost every 6 months. Our vet is supplementing him with enzymes but says that this is not something to be used forever. Can you recommend something which we can use as a supplement to avoid this problem, something natural or homeopathic? – PG

Dear PG,
There are a number of supplements that come to mind when asked a question like this. Changing hay and grain (gradually) and seeing if that prevents these bouts of colic is also an option. However, I strongly encourage you to try to get to the bottom of your horse’s colic first. That is, work with your veterinarian through a series of questions and diagnostic tests to determine if sand, enteroliths, parasites (eg small strongyle emergence), ulcers, dehydration, change in pasture or feed, or other medical or seasonal issue could be the cause.

If you cannot identify a risk factor, and you feel your horse is getting appropriate forage, vitamins and minerals either in grain or a supplement, water, turnout and preventive care (eg deworming), then you may want to begin experimenting with supplements across several categories to see if any help. I recommend trying one supplement at a time though, rather than several at once, because then you won’t know for sure which supplement helped. During these trials, keep detailed notes about any changes in your horse that you notice.

The first category you may want to start with is a daily dewormer. If inflammation caused by parasite migration is the root of your horse’s intermittent colic, then feeding pyrantal tartrate every day may be of benefit.

The next category of supplementation could be with psyllium. A paper in the Feburary 2008 issue of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science entitled “Fecal Sand Clearance is Enhanced with a Product Combining Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Psyllium in Clinically Normal Horses” suggests such products may be an effective prophylactic treatment for sand enteropathy and sand colic in which management alone is not sufficient to prevent intestinal sand accumulation.

If you would like to try probiotics (the good bugs), there are a variety of products on the market from which to select. Because it has been shown that different strains of probiotics (such as Lactobacillus, Enterococcus, and others) work differently, try to find a product with more than one strain.

Prebiotics (food for the good bugs) fall in another category of ingredients that may be beneficial for your horse. They have not only been proven to reduce disruption in the cecum and colon but also inhibit the absorption of harmful bacteria in the hindgut. Then there’s yeast such as Saccharomyces, which have been shown to improve fiber digestion and assist the beneficial bacteria of the cecum in adjusting to feed changes. You’ve already mentioned enzymes, which have been demonstrated to increase the proper digestion of starch in the foregut.

If you and your veterinarian aren’t able to pinpoint the exact cause of the colics, then maybe one or more of these ingredients will help. I wish you and your horse the best of luck!

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+

Posted in Ask the Vet, G.I. Conditions

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