While horses seem predisposed to colic due to the anatomy and function of their digestive tracts, management can play a key role in prevention. Although not every case is avoidable, the following guidelines can maximize a horse's health and reduce the risk of colic.
•Establish a daily set routine -- including feeding and exercise schedules -- and stick to it.
•Feed a high quality diet comprised primarily of roughage where possible.
•Avoid feeding excessive grain and energy-dense supplements. (At least half the horse's energy requirement should be supplied through hay or forage. A better guide is that twice as much energy should be supplied from a roughage source than from concentrates.)
•Divide daily concentrate rations into tow or more smaller feedings rather than one large one to avoid overloading the horse's digestive tract. Hay is best fed free-choice.
•Set up a regular parasite control program with the help of your equine practitioner. Utilize fecal testing to determine its effectiveness.
•Provide exercise and/or turn out on a daily basis.
•Change the intensity/duration of an exercise regime gradually.
•Provide fresh, clean water at all times. (The only exception is when a horse is excessively hot. Then it should be given small sips of lukewarm water until it has recovered.)
•Avoid medications unless they are prescribed by your equine practitioner, especially pain-relief drugs (analgesics), which can cause ulcers.
•Check hay, bedding, pasture, and environment for potentially toxic substances, such as blister beetles, noxious weeds, and other ingestible foreign matter.
•Avoid putting feed on the ground, especially in sandy soils.
•Make dietary and other management changes as gradually as possible.
•Reduce stress. Horses experiencing changes in environment or workloads are at a high risk of intestinal dysfunction.
•Pay special attention to animals when transporting them or changing their surroundings, such as at shows.
•Observe foaling mares pre- and postpartum for any signs of colic. Also watch any horses who have had a previous bout with colic.
•Maintain accurate records of management, feeding practices, and health.
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The Equine Research Centre
University of Guelph
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