Preventing colic

Colic can be caused by various things, but the good news is that by reducing risk factors you’ll dramatically reduce the chances of your horse suffering from this condition, says Kim Dyson.

Looking at its stomach is a sign that the horse has colic.
Photo: Kim Dyson

Unfortunately too many owners have witnessed a restless pony pawing the ground, noticed the sweat dripping off its body and the irritated kicks at a painful belly, the stretching out as if to urinate and the rolling. It’s time for frantic prayer and the crossing of fingers that the signs don’t worsen and the colic does not become more serious. Recently, Dr Mac covered colic surgery. This week I’d like to discuss how we can avoid colic with a 10-point prevention plan.

Causes
Colic can be caused by a number of factors, from bad indigestion to a severely twisted gut: 

  • Herbivores must eat more food and chew more thoroughly to access energy, and they have a larger and longer digestive tract in order to absorb the nutrients they need to survive. The length of the intestines means they’re prone to twisting. 
  • Horses ferment their food. The by-product of fermentation is gas. Gas-filled loops of distended gut can easily float into inappropriate places.
  • A co-ordination of organs is required for the digestive tract to function correctly. If one of the organs ‘malfunctions’ it affects the rest of the ‘system’.
  • Horses require a huge absorption area to absorb food. This also means toxins are readily absorbed into the system, causing toxaemia. 
  • Horses can’t vomit, making it impossible to get rid of dangerous food elements.

Prevention plan
Here’s a 10-point prevention plan:
1) Horses need routine. Feed and exercise at the same time each day. A horse that’s been salivating for his meal will gulp it down when he eventually gets it and end up rolling around the stable in pain. If you do need to make a diet or exercise change, make the transition gradual over a two-week period.
2) Where possible, avoid sandy pastures, particularly if they’ve been overgrazed. Make sure you supply good quality hay if you have no other alternative. Hang the hay in a teff net and ensure that the supply doesn’t run out. Put up a few nets in different areas of the paddock. Cook barley and linseed, and feed twice a day. This helps move sand from the digestive tract.
3) Hard work and hard feeds are directly proportional! No work, no hard feed.
4) Ensure your horses have access to plenty of water and forage at all times. Almost all forms of constipation are associated with dehydration. If your horse has been working very hard and is blowing heavily, wait before allowing him to drink.
5) Your horse’s teeth should be checked every six to 12 months.
6) De-worm your horse at every change of season. Dung should be removed from the camp every three days on average.
7) Don’t over-graze pasture.
8) Never compromise on the quality of hay. Inferior hay could end up costing you your horse’s life. A horse’s diet should comprise 60% forage. If you have a horse that’s stabled, it should never be left without hay. Ensure the hay is netted to minimise the chance of it eating bedding, dirt or sand.
9) Ration lush spring grass carefully.
10) Horses that are fit and have regular exercise are less prone to colic. A horse should not spend more than 12 hours a day in a stable, even in the most extreme weather conditions.

Records
If you can diagnose colic early you will have a better prognosis. Keep constant records of your horses’ temperature, pulse and colour of the mucous membranes and respiration. Any change could be an early warning sign of colic. 

Contact Kim Dyson on 082 888 6511 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Horse therapy’ in the subject line of your email.