Avoid Winter Colic

Colic has many different types, causes and outcomes, and is the leading cause of premature equine death. It’s not always preventable, however, you can protect your horse from certain situations that predispose them to colic, such as cold weather.

What is winter colic?

Winter colic, a common condition associated with the colder months, is an impaction-colic. The horse’s intestine gets blocked with feedstuff and other material, usually from a lack of fresh water and moisture-rich fresh grass. This can be due to the horse being stabled more during the winter, and having less access to water.

Dehydration impedes gut movement, which can result in a blockage. Feed and gas build up behind the blockage, and cause distention of the horse’s intestine and associated pain. Impactions can occur anywhere throughout the intestine, however, the pelvic flexure portion of the large intestine is one of the more common sites due to the decreased diameter at this point.

Symptoms of winter colic:

  • Frequently looking at their side.
  • Biting/kicking their flank or belly.
  • Lying down and/or rolling.
  • Little or no passing of manure, fecal balls smaller than usual, and/or passing dry or mucus (slime)-covered manure.
  • Poor eating behaviour (eats less grain/hay) & a change in drinking behaviour.
  • Changes in vital signs – heart rate of over 45 to 50 beats per minute, tacky gums and a long capillary refill time.

If you notice any or some of these symptoms, call us on 01425 657700 for advice.

Diagnosing, treating and avoiding winter colic:

Thankfully, winter colic is typically easy to diagnose, mostly during rectal palpations. Treatment normally includes painkillers, possibly a sedative, along with hydration to get things moving again. If the impaction is more severe, your horse may need to be hospitalised so that intravenous fluids can be administered.

Most horses tend to recover quickly from winter colic, but of course, it’s much better for the horse if this condition can be avoided. Pilgrims Vets’s equine vets have this advice:

  • Provide your horse with fresh, clean water 24/7. Add some to bucket feed.
  • Introduce a scheduled daily feeding routine. If weather conditions force a change in the routine & stable usage, look for signs of colic vigilantly.
  • Feed plenty of clean, long-stemmed forage. Soak/steam hay prior to feeding.
  • Turn your horse out as much as possible.
  • Regularly check stables & fields and remove any ingestible foreign objects.