Equine colic is an owner’s worst nightmare, with some cases leading to expensive vet bills or even mortality, it is important that we understand the causes, ability to identify the signs and implement management practises to avoid colic from occurring.
Equine colic is a generic term used for abdominal pain related to several pathological abnormalities. Old age is still the most common cause of equine death with colic the third cause shortly behind injuries.
What are the different types of colic?
- Spasmatic Colic: Caused by contractions (spasms) of the bowel wall, resulting in abdominal pain and discomfort
- Impaction Colic: Often located in the large intestine, caused by a “blockage” of a firm mass, digesta.
- Displacement Colic: Movement of the bowel to an abnormal location. Displacement colic can be divided into two further types; strangulation is when a piece of gut moves and cuts off the blood supply. Torsion is when the bowel twists round itself cutting off the blood supply.
- Gas Colic: a build up of gas within the stomach or intestine resulting in distention, causing pain.
- Sand Colic: An accumulation of sand within the gut, often due to grazing sandy pastures or feeding in an arena.
There are several causes of colic and not all are nutritionally related. Restricted exercise during winter months or due to box rest can pose a risk of colic occurring. Changes in exercise should be made gradual to avoid stress and gastric upsets.
High grain diets, large meals, mouldy feeds, poor quality forage, sudden changes in feed and poor dentition can all contribute to the risk of colic. Maintaining a balanced diet whilst trying to mimic the natural grazing patterns aid in prevention.
High parasitic burdens have also been associated with colic, specially Tapeworms, known to be associated with high recorded incidences of impaction and spasmatic colic. Implementing a strategic worming programme can reduce the amount of anthelmintics used.
What are the signs to look out for if your horse is suffering from colic?
- Looking at their flanks
- Pawing the ground
- Kicking or biting at their stomach
- Lying down a lot
- Lack of appetite
- No bowel movements
- No bowel or digestive sounds
- Increases respiration
- Elevated pulse
Let’s finally look at some easy management tips to prevent the occurrence of equine colic
- A high forage diet – Provide high quality forage to meet their recommended requirements (1.5% body weight per day). Reduce the amount of non-structural carbohydrates by providing energy through alternative sources i.e. oils
- Mimic the natural feeding pattern- When not grazing, try to implement feeding little and often meals throughout the day to avoid a high feed intake at one time which can lead to digestive upset.
- Daily exercise- It has been shown that horses in pasture are at a lower risk of colic. Providing daily turnout or exercise can decrease the prevalence of colic.
- Diet changes should be introduced gradually – Changes to the diet should be done gradually to allow the digestive tract to adapt. Horses on box rest from injury should have the cereal levels of their diet decreased slowly.
- Supply fresh water- Clean water should always be available, except for after hard- intense exercise that has resulted in elevated body temperature and increased respiration rate, only small sips of water should be offered periodically during this cooling down period.
Bluegrass Horse Feeds is an Irish horse feed producer based at its mill in Eglish in County Tyrone. Bluegrass Horse Feeds, which produces quality and innovative horse feeds, is the Ireland Team Member of Kentucky Equine Research. The Bluegrass Horse Feeds team works closely with owners, riders and trainers using the latest nutritional research and technology to achieve optimum performance from their horses. Bluegrass distributes its feeds the length and breadth of Ireland and has over 200 stockists. If you need nutritional advice please fill out our diet request form and while you're here find out your nearest stockist.