Horse colic is the most common reason for emergency vet calls, especially with sudden climate changes. As colder weather settles in and summer pastures go dormant, horses rely on hay for forage.
Cured properly, hay has 18-20% moisture content compared to grass pasture which is 85% water. If a horse doesn’t drink enough water, he is at risk for impaction colic from eating dry hay. In fact, this type of colic is more commonly seen during colder, winter months according to Dr. Phoebe Anders, DVM, of Tennessee Equine Hospital West.
“Horses don’t have access to lush pastures during the winter so they need to drink more water.” Some horses are reluctant drinkers. “Adding salt or electrolytes to your horse’s diet, or offering it free-choice, can encourage him to drink. It’s also important to keep their water from freezing.”
Dr. Anders recommends adding water to the horse’s regular grain feeding, making a mash, to get more water into horses’ digestive tracts. She also advises horse owners to temporarily decrease the amount of grain fed when a cold snap occurs.
“Feeding hay will keep your horse warm and maintain his gut microbes in proper balance” adds Dr Anders. Grain
heavy diets are known to increase a horse’s risk for colic. Regular turnout, deworming as your vet recommends, and dental care will also decrease risk of colic.
Careful management practices and routine veterinary care can also reduce the incidence of colic. Talk with your vet about your horse’s risk for colic and further steps you can take to ensure your horse has a healthy gut, the foundation of a horse’s health. Keep water flowing as your horse eats his way to warmth and health this winter.
Know the signs and symptoms of horse colic:
1. Frequently looking at their side.
2. Biting or kicking their flank or belly.
3. Lying down and/or rolling.
4. Little or no passing of manure.
5. Fecal balls smaller than usual.
6. Passing dry or mucus (slime)-covered manure.
7. Poor eating behavior, may not eat all their grain or hay.
8. Change in drinking behavior.
9. Heart rate over 45 to 50 beats per minute.
10. Tacky gums.
11. Long capillary refill time.
12. Off-colored mucous membranes.