There tends to be a higher incidence of colic in the fall and winter — here’s how to keep your horse healthy.
Colic can strike at any time, but fall and winter are particularly high-risk seasons. Luckily, there are several things you can do to decrease your horse’s colic jeopardy. When pastures fail in the fall and a horse switches to a different diet, two major factors come into play. One is the different diet, and the other is a change in that diet’s moisture levels.
Most people know they should transition slowly when adding or changing grains and other concentrates. However, it is important to realize that a change in forage, including hay types, should also be made gradually. This is because the protein, sugar and starch components of hay are digested in the small intestine, and while digestive enzymes there can adjust to changes, it takes time. Allow at least five to seven days to make a complete change. Avoid rapid changes in diet, including substituting hay for grass, and changing hays. Disruptions in organisms that occur with rapid changes can cause gas and possible displacement of the colon, diarrhea from incomplete fermentation, and even changes in how well the intestine contracts and moves food along.
Inadequate water consumption is the leading cause of impaction. An average-sized horse needs to consume at least four to five gallons of water per day even in very cold weather, because for much of their journey through the bowel, intestinal contents have a high moisture level, much like soup. In addition to what the horse drinks, fluids are actively secreted along the intestinal tract, then reabsorbed in the terminal portions of the colon. The fluid keeps things moving freely and allows for good mixing, which assists in absorption and fermentation.
Keep Them Moving
The final colic risk factor, especially in winter, is inactivity. Do not reduce turnout or stall the horse unless weather is really severe. When conditions are so bad that the horse is barely moving, ensuring an adequate water intake will go a long way toward preventing impaction colic.
You can lead a horse to water but how do you get him to drink?
• The horse is most likely to drink while or shortly after eating hay, so hay and water should be placed close together.
• Warm water is consumed more readily. At the very least, water should never be allowed to freeze over.
• To encourage drinking, add at least one ounce of salt to the feed daily, or dissolve and spray on the hay for picky horses.
• Intake can be increased by adding warm water to pellets, hay cubes and sweet feeds. Beet pulp is ideal because it can hold four times its in water.
• Adding some wheat bran improves appeal.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD, currently serves as the Staff Veterinary Specialist for Uckele Health & Nutrition. An established authority in the field of equine nutrition for over 30 years, Dr. Kellon is a valuable resource in the field of applications and nutraceuticals in horses. She formerly served as Veterinary Editor for Horse Journal and John Lyons Perfect Horse and is owner of Equine Nutritional Solutions, a thriving private practice. Founded in 1962, Uckele Health & Nutrition has been a trusted leader in the formulation, development and manufacture of quality nutritional supplements for 50 years.