Colic: Be­come a Rapid Re­spon­der


TThe word “colic” strikes fear in ev­ery horse owner’s heart. While we’ve come a long way in un­der­stand­ing, treat­ing, and re­duc­ing the risk of colic, it’s still some­thing that can take your horse’s life. Colic is ab­dom­i­nal pain that can have many causes. The vast ma­jor­ity of col­ics are caused by prob­lems in the in­testi­nal tract, but be­cause the symp­toms are largely non­spe­cific, only a ve­teri­nary exam can tell you what’s caus­ing the prob­lem.

Here, I’ll first tell you how you can re­duce your horse’s colic risk. Then I’ll give you a run­down of colic symp­toms and life­sav­ing ac­tion steps to take if you sus­pect your horse is col­ick­ing. Fi­nally, I’ll ex­plain what to ex­pect when your vet­eri­nar­ian ar­rives.

Re­duce Colic Risk

Here are six ways you can re­duce your horse’s colic risk. • Pro­vide plenty of wa­ter. Your horse’s nat­u­ral diet, grass, is at least 80 per­cent wa­ter. When he eats grains or hays that are less than 10 per­cent wa­ter, he has to make up the dif­fer­ence by drink­ing. A horse on a “dry” diet needs to take in at least eight gal­lons of wa­ter per day. In sum­mer heat and when ex­er­cis­ing, his needs are con­sid­er­ably higher. • Pro­vide salt. In­suf­fi­cient salt is a com­mon rea­son why horses don’t drink enough wa­ter. Make sure your horse has ac­cess to salt and that he’s ac­tu­ally tak­ing it in. He needs at least one ounce of salt per day in win­ter; two to four ounces per day in hot weather. • Avoid sud­den feed changes. Hays can and do vary tremen­dously in the lev­els of su­gar, starch, pro­tein, and fiber types they con­tain. All th­ese dif­fer­ent nu­tri­ents are fer­mented by dif­fer­ent types of or­gan­isms in the horse’s in­testines. When you make a sud­den change, they may not be able to adapt. Even if you al­ways feed the same type of hay, there can be size­able dif­fer­ences be­tween cut­tings and hays grown in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. Make changes grad­u­ally, over about a week’s time. • Avoid too much grain. Grains are low­fiber, high-starch feeds. Your horse has a lim­ited abil­ity to di­gest starch, due to a rel­a­tively short small in­tes­tine where that di­ges­tion oc­curs. Sug­ars and starches that don’t get di­gested end up in the large bowel and can cause se­ri­ous prob­lems. Only feed grain if your horse can’t hold a nor­mal weight on hay alone. Limit grain feed­ings to three to five pounds, at the very most, per feed­ing. • De­worm reg­u­larly. Par­a­sites can cause colic, es­pe­cially round­worms in foals and tapeworms or small strongyles in adults. To help coun­ter­act re­sis­tance to ro­ta­tional de­worm­ers, talk to your vet­eri­nar­ian about pe­ri­od­i­cally per­form­ing fe­cal egg counts. • Pro­vide ad­e­quate ex­er­cise. Ex­er­cise en­cour­ages good in­testi­nal motil­ity. A horse con­fined to a stall is a colic wait­ing to hap­pen.

If your horse col­ics, your fast and ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tions at home and on the road could save his life. Here’s what to do.

Colic Symp­toms

Your horse will “tell” you his belly is hurt­ing in a va­ri­ety of ways. Here’s a run­down. • Kick­ing at his belly. Un­less your horse is be­ing both­ered by flies, this is a fairly spe­cific symp­tom. • Turn­ing to look at and/or bit­ing at

his belly or flank. • Ly­ing down. Your horse may rest qui­etly, or may al­ter­nate be­tween ly­ing flat and ly­ing on his ster­num. • Rest­less­ness. Your horse may lie down

and get up re­peat­edly, or pace. • Re­fus­ing to drink. Your horse may nose

at the wa­ter, but not drink. • Grunt­ing or groan­ing. Horses are usu­ally more likely to do this when they’re down. This symp­tom may also be present with chest pain. Some horses may lift their lips or grind their teeth.

Rest­ing is nor­mal, but if you see your horse re­peat­edly lie down and get up, or if he’s as­sumed an odd po­si­tion, he may be col­ick­ing.

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