What are the main causes of colic in horses and what can you do to help prevent it?

What are the main causes of colic in horses and what can you do to help prevent it? 

Colic is a very complicated and often devastating condition. It can range from a mild stomach ache that a horse can be brought out of with some banamine or some natural herbs and mineral oil in a stomach tube, to a very severe complication that can lead to death unless surgery is performed to remove the blockage. First of all, let’s take a look at what colic really is. 

Causes and types of Colic

One of the simplest forms, and the one that makes us humans scratch our heads is a spasm, resulting from stress or a change in diet or routine. This is the form of colic that we all look out for when there has been an unusually cold morning in an otherwise warm period of time. The most difficult thing about this form of colic is that there is not much that we can do to prevent it. 

Colic is most generally caused by “impaction”, this is a term used to describe when the intestine is blocked with partially digested food. This form of colic is generally more easy to treat than other forms, since it is due simply to a blockage in the intestine that can generally be worked through with the help of some banamine and lubrication with oil via a stomach tube. 

The last kind of colic that we will talk about is the dreaded “twisted gut”. This can have many causes, such as a tumor pushing on the intestine causing displacement, a hernia, displacement caused by random chance such as rolling, or an underlying condition that causes a strangulation of blood flow to an area of intestine. These wide ranging forms of colic generally require surgery to treat. 

Preventative measures

With all of the different kinds of colic out there, your first question probably is “What can I do to prevent this?” 

Should you maybe keep your horse in a climate controlled stall, getting the same exact meal at the same exact time every day? Well, unfortunately, that isn’t possible for 99% of us, but this can be a good guideline for what we can do. 

When it gets cold, make sure that they are blanketed and have a place to get out of the elements. The excess stress of dealing with unexpected weather changes can cause digestive upset and intestinal spasms. Try to feed them around the same time every day. Changes in their feeding schedule can cause stress and digestive upset

Try to feed them similar feeds as often as you can. Big changes in feed type can be a potential issue, because the gut takes some time to get accustomed to digesting new types of feed, and that under-digested feed can get stuck in the intestine, causing an impaction. Also, keep their living area clean if living in a stall, and avoid bedding with straw. When horses eat straw, or other hard to digest materials, it often passes through the system undigested, which causes impaction.

Last but certainly not least, and it should go without saying, make sure that your horses always have access to clean water. Long interruptions in drinking and dehydration can and does oftentimes lead to colic. 

At the end of the day, we really can’t control many of the factors that contribute to colic, partially because we really sometimes don't know what exactly the cause even is. Keeping their environmental stressors down can play a major role. Our Full-Spectrum Hemp Pellets are a great addition to any horse’s feed program to help keep stress at bay. After all, we all want what’s best for our four-legged friends. 

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