If you’ve read any of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion novels, you’ve probably already heard about horse colic even before putting your hands on a horse. What horse colic means is abdominal pain. This pain can originate anywhere in the abdominal cavity but typically is in the gastrointestinal tract. There are over seventy types of colic that range from irritating and discomforting to your horse to severe and life-threatening. Obviously, prevention is better than having to find a diagnosis and a cure, so there’re some things you as a horse owner can do to prevent some of the more common kinds of horse colic.
You are what you Eat
One’s health being about one’s food doesn’t just apply to humans, all sorts of animals can relate. In the case of horses, while their natural diet is made up of grass, leaves, and sometimes bark, we find ourselves adding processed grains and sweet feeds that are high in carbs to help them perform to our high demands. Too many carbohydrates can lead to what is called hindgut acidosis. Hindgut acidosis is when sugars and starches end up fermenting in the hindgut and lowering the pH balance causing higher levels of acidity which unbalances your horse’s hindgut and may lead to colonic ulcers. As you can imagine, this is quite painful and will produce colic. Without treatment, tissue may eventually die, resulting in food blockages and a whole host of other incredibly serious problems.
The biggest steps you can take to help your horse avoid colic is to feed smaller and more frequent meals to allow starches and sugars time to digest before they reach your horse’s hindgut. Let them get as much time outside of their stall as you can manage to add more quality forage time and reduce their grain intake and you can slow their eating by adding chaff (chopped hay) to their buckets to help lessen the risks of developing colic.
Subtle Signs tell a story
The symptoms of colic vary from subtle to severe just like colic itself. In mild horse colic cases, your hooved partner may lip curl, stare at their flanks, be restless or paw at the ground. As the colic worsens, your horse may proceed to posture to urinate frequently, lie down and get back up shortly thereafter, or even lie on their sides for extended periods of time. In cases of severe colic, your horse may roll about violent, sweat, breath rapidly and possibly injury themselves from their thrashing around. If you suspect colic, it’s best to contact your veterinarian as soon as possible to get treatment! While many of the causes of horse colic are severe, treatment is possible and often successful. When in doubt, phone the expert.
As always, don’t change your horse’s diet suddenly, that can cause all sorts of digestive issues on its own, also another cause of colic in horses. Change their feed and their feed times gradually and carefully. A healthy horse is a happy horse!