Cold Weather Colic in Horses
January 27, 2011
Cold winds and changing winter weather may not seem like
contributing factors for equine colic. However, these
conditions can foster changes in routine and eating habits that may
affect the well being of your horse.
"A common winter time equine health concern is colic," notes Dr.
Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
"Colic is a symptom of abdominal pain and can take the form of
digestive problems, intestinal blockage, or a twisted intestine
among other possibilities."
"There are several reasons why horses tend to colic more as the
winter months linger," explains Mays. "Lack of quality
grazing, too cold water and reduced exercise time can contribute to
Spring's lush green pastures provide grass that contains
moisture which is absorbed in the gut and adds wet fiber to more
readily move food along your horse's digestive tract. When
there is no green grass to graze, the possibility for impaction
increases, explains Mays. Keep quality hay in front of your
horse to provide roughage. The horse digestive tract is
designed for high volume food such as grass and hay and these
should be fed before grain.
"When temperatures drop, the tendency is to increase your
horse's grain rations to meet the increased energy demands to stay
warm. However, increased carbohydrates can upset your horse's
digestive tract. When temperatures drop, feed extra hay, not
grain, since hay provides more efficient 'heating fuel' for your
horse," says Mays.
"Roughage quality and availability may negatively affect a
horse's intake and digestion. Coarse, dry grazing or baled
roughage can result in soft tissue abrasions inside the horse's
mouth during the chewing process. This seemingly minor trauma
can result in a horse's compromised ability to grind feed stuff due
to soreness in the mouth," notes Mays.
Adequate water consumption is essential for your horse's well
being. Horses tend to consume less water in colder weather
since lower temperatures decrease their desire for water.
However, they still need 10-12 gallons of water daily depending on
work load. Also, if the temperature of their water source is below
45 degrees, horses tend to consume less water.
Insufficient water intake can result in dehydration and
decreased blood volume (resulting in fewer nutrients to cells and
decreased efficiency of waste removal). When water intake is
decreased, your horse has an increased chance that its intestines
may become impacted and colic can then occur, explains Mays.
"Frozen water sources obviously compromise water
availability. Even best intentions like utilizing water
warmers, insulating pipes and warming coils can fail, so check your
horse's water source to be sure that all is functioning.
Also, inspect plumbing for leaks when temperatures rise above
Historically, horses were foragers who moved and ate most of the
day. They were mobile and not confined to a stall or fed
restricted feedings," notes Mays. "Regular exercise and
movement helps to keep a horse's digestive system functioning
properly. Even if you can only turn your horse out for a
short time or just walk around the barn, it is better than no
exercise at all. The ideal situation is for your horse to
spend the majority of its time on pasture."
During the winter months, you can minimize colic attacks if you
monitor your horse's water intake to be sure that it is being well
hydrated, feed quality hay that is free of impurities such as mold
and exercise your horse or, provide pasture for roaming, says
While colic is not always avoidable, careful feeding, sufficient
water intake and plenty of exercise can reduce the chances of your
horse being affected by cold weather colic.
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