How to Prevent Colic in Horses

Colic is a painful problem for a horse. Their unique digestion system prevents them from vomiting, which means anything that goes into the horse must work its way through the gastrointestinal tract. Since they can be really good at eating the wrong things, knowing how to prevent colic in horses is key information that every owner must have.

There are many types of colic that cannot be prevented. Because horses are naturally prone to this health issue, every animal will usually experience it at least once in their lives. By following these steps with your horses, you can reduce the risks of colic occurring so that they can be happy and comfortable every day.

#1. Make sure that you always have clean water available.

It only takes 60-90 minutes for a horse to be without water for its risks of colic to increase. This is especially true for horses that are 6 years of age or older.

Just having water available may not be good enough. Most horses tend to prefer drinking clean, fresh water from a bucket instead of an automatic waterer. These animals tend to ingest a large amount of water very quickly, with this action having a natural effect in preventing colic.

In winter especially, make sure that there is always clean water available. Horses will drink more water in the colder months if it has been warmed first.

#2. Be consistent with pasture turnouts.

When a horse has regular access to a pasture, then it has a lower risk of colic when compared to horses that do not receive a regular turnout. The simple act of feeding hay instead of allowing grazing to occur may even increase the chances of colic.

One reason why this is an effective preventative action against colic is that fresh grass tends to have moisture content within it. The fibrous materials of the grass then work with that moisture to push items through the gastrointestinal tract of the horse.

#3. Avoid sandy areas with horses.

Sand and other forms of loose soil are often ingested because of the natural grazing behaviors of a horse. The ingestion of these particles is known to create irritation within the gastrointestinal tract, which often results in colic.

Instead of laying out hay on the ground for a horse, consider feeding the animal by using a rack or a tub. It is also beneficial to place a catch pan or a rubber mat underneath your rack or tub so that the horse can pursue leftover scraps without risking the ingestion of sand or loose soil.

#4. Whole grains in high amounts can contribute to colic.

It is important to feed horses whole grains and pelleted feeds as a supplement to their grazing diet. This is often how horses get the vitamins and minerals that are needed for good health. Yet for every pound of feed grain or pelleted feed that is given, the risk for colic development may increase by 70%.

That’s a 70% increase for every pound. If you give a horse 10 pounds of feed grain in a day, then the risk of colic for that horse goes up by 700% compared to having no feed grain at all.

Sweet feeds are also known to increase the risk of colic when compared to a diet that is 100% hay or pasture grass.

#5. Watch for the signs and symptoms of colic every day.

Any time there is a change to the routine of a horse, their risks of colic will go up for the next 7-14 days. When farms make more than 4 changes in their feed over a 12-month period, their risks of colic increase by more than three times when compared to farms that make fewer feed changes.

Just changing to a different batch of hay carries with it an increased risk of colic.

Any time there is a change in a horse’s exercise habit, the risks of colic will go up as well. This includes increases to the amount of exercise received – not just a decrease in exercise as some may believe.

Be proactive and watch for the signs and symptoms of colic, especially when changes occur. Make gradual changes to exercise or dietary routines to keep stress levels down for the horse.

#6. Float the teeth twice per year.

Did you know that the teeth of a horse constantly grow? Horses also tend to chew a bit sideways as they grind hay, grass, and other feed. This motion creates inconsistent wear patterns on the teeth of the horse. Over time, this can mean very sharp edges and points, making it difficult for the horse to chew.

Call your veterinarian and have the points and edges filed down about twice per year. This process is called “floating” and will reduce the chances of colic because the horse will be able to chew normally.

#7. Be proactive about good health.

While the veterinarian is out there floating the teeth, it is a good idea to have a discussion about the potential benefits of using deworming products or updating the vaccinations for the animal. By be proactive against parasites so they stay under control, an incident of colic is less likely to occur.

Good parasite control can also minimize the discomfort and severity of a colic attack should it occur.

#8. Watch for signs of impaction.

Constipation is a very bad thing for a horse. If the waste materials impact within the intestines, then colic will almost always form. Look for early signs of an impaction, such as dried fecal balls or fecal materials that are smaller than usual. Horses may also change their eating or drinking habits in the early stages of an impaction colic event.

If the impact cannot be removed and stays stuck, it must be treated as a medical emergency. Surgery may be necessary to remove the impaction and save the life of the horse. If you can pick up on the subtle signs of colic before this happens, then you can prevent a potentially costly remedy from being required.

#9. Colic occurs frequently after birth.

Broodmares are at an increased risk of colic for the first 60 days after birth. Monitoring them for the early signs of colic can help you quickly respond to an incident should it occur.

Any horse that has experienced colic in the past is at a greater risk than the general horse population of having a repeat episode.

If your horse does experience colic, don’t panic. Take the vital signs of the horse and have a conversation with your veterinarian. Then by following these steps, you’ll know how to prevent colic in horses in the best ways possible to prevent future incidents.