Morgan Murphy

Colic in Horses: Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Colic is a huge source of anxiety for horse owners. Having already discussed Colic in a previous article, what happens and why - you may already know that the key to keeping colic at bay is taking the right, preventative measures. Colic can affect any horse of any breed at any age and at any time; it does not have predisposing warning factors in many cases and it can strike when least expected.  As such, it is a prevalent topic within the equine industry and we have compiled a list of tips to help prevent your horse from an episode. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee you will never experience this frightening condition but, by following these simple and sensible tips you can greatly reduce the risks.

Rolling can be a sign of colic in horses*


  • Feed sensibly

Don't feed just twice a day. Divide feeding into 3-4 times daily. Make any change in diet, gradually. Even if you're feeding the same kind of forage. Taper the horse onto the latest load of hay, gradually. Provide your horse with clean bowls and mold-free feed, kept away from vermin, to prevent toxins from entering the horse’s digestive system. You wouldn’t like to eat or drink from dirty dishes so imagine what it’s like for your horse to have to eat from a dirty bowl! Unhygienic areas are a breeding ground for bacteria which could introduce colic-inducing toxins to the horse, so ensure that your food bowls are cleaned before each meal and that you provide your horse with fresh water each day.

  • Keep meal sizes to a minimum

The stomach capacity of a horse is less than 4 pounds.  By overfeeding, you are challenging the horse’s stomach and digestive tract, which will prevent him from digesting the food effectively and may be a trigger for colic. If your horse requires a significant amount of hard feed, split this over 3-4 smaller meals per day or consider using oils to increase the calorific density in place of starchy bulk feeds.

  • Deworm regularly

Worm infestation is one of the leading causes of colic in horses. Recently there has been a move away from blind deworming; instead, most clinicians recommend that you take a worm count. Sampling the horse’s droppings and sending them away for analysis to determine the number of eggs or larvae of tapeworm and redworm will indicate whether a horse requires deworming and will inform your decision on which wormer to use.  Worms take vital nutrients away from the horse and can lead to irreparable damage and fatal colic, so worm counts and worming, if required, should be carried out routinely.

  • Minimize exposure to stress

Stress can disrupt the speed of digestive transit and as such it is a contributing factor toward colic. Try to keep your horse to a regular routine, with feeding at the same time(s) each day, daily turnout and regular socialization with other horses.  If you are travelling to a show, moving barns or changing a feed or routine, ensure this is done with as little stress to the horse as possible by preparing thoroughly, giving the horse time to adjust. If necessary, consult your veterinarian about a calming product.  

  • Turnout time is chill-out time

Try to ensure your horse gets as much turnout time at pasture as possible. When the horse can move around freely, this ensures movement of the digestive tract and passage of forage through the body. Time at pasture isn’t only important for preventing colic - it promotes overall horse health and wellbeing too! Constant access to forage is great for the digestive system, allowing for natural trickle feeding, and it combats boredom and stereotypical behaviors such as cribbing or pacing.

Sand colic can be found in horses grazing upon sandy ground. Ingestion of small amounts of sand will not cause any issues but avoid feeding on the ground – both feed and hay – to prevent the horse from taking in any more sand.

  • Do not feed immediately after exercise

One of the first rules of feeding is to ensure that the horse is cooled off and has returned to a normal state after exercise – he should have resumed a normal pulse and respiratory rate before any feed is supplied. If the horse is fed while sweaty or straight after work while his body is still under pressure and in a heightened physiological state, he is unlikely to be able to digest food properly and the speed of his digestive tract will be severely altered.  Feeding at this point increases the risk of the horse experiencing colic and should always be avoided.

Remember: colic is largely preventable. Taking a few sensible measures daily will not only keep episodes of colic at bay, but will improve the general quality of your horse’s life. What better reason can there be to follow these tips?!


 *Image courtesy of Bigstock Images