16 Feb 2018

Preventing a Colic as a Horse Owner

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What is the one thing all horse owners want to know?


How to prevent COLIC!!!

Let’s talk about it….shall we….

The average colic frequency on farms in the USA is 4.2 colic events out of 100 horses per year, or one colic event per 25 horses per year. Therefore, if you are on a small farm you chances are pretty low, which is good news!! Even though this is true, no one wants colic so let’s look ahead to the several ways and management strategies you can take to help prevent it to the best of your ability.


The colic case fatality rate is about 11%. There are some breed dispositions that are more prone to colic. If you have a pony, miniature horse, Standardbred or Arabian then you should be more on the alert. Other categories that have higher risk factors would be postpartum mares. They tend to be the ones with a large colon volvulus post foaling which is definitely a surgical lesion. With that said the backyard horse could suffer from this as well but the chances are less likely.

Preventing a Colic as a Horse Owner by Dr. Gina Tranquillo of All Points Equine

Weather and Season:

There is no official published data, but it is thought that the changes in weather and seasons do cause an increase in the risk of colic for our horses. This is more likely due to management changes that may occur. For example, if it is very cold outside you might delay the morning grain meal and the horse is in the barn longer than normal. Or, the ground is frozen for a long period of time and you have opted to not subject your horse to this, instead you keep them stall bound for several days. All of these management changes can certainly lead to colic in the horse. Horses are creatures of habit, work hard to keep everything as steady and routine as possible.


Look for our winter tips in a previous Facebook post to help you keep your horses drinking and stable through the winter. We suggest warm water for drinking buckets. Feel free to use hot water at night as it will take longer to freeze. Avoid locking your horses in their stall for days, turnout and movement is important. Their gut is prone to so many imbalances from these small management changes alone, it’s a wonder they don’t colic more than they do since they have nearly 100 feet of gastrointestinal tract. Did you know food only remains in the stomach of the horse about 15 minutes before moving on to nearly 70 feet of small intestine alone? The small intestine alone can hold 68 quarts of food!



Obesity is important, you must keep your horses exercised and tone. It is just as important as your own personal health. When horses are obese they are more likely to develop lipomas. Lipomas are fatty tumors that are usually on a pedicle. I describe them to owners like this – put an orange in the leg of a pantyhose then swing it around inside the abdomen of the horse. The orange is the lipoma and its attached to a pedicle, the pantyhose. As it swings in the abdomen it will inevitably become entangled in the rest of the gut, pinching it off in places and causing a huge disruption and the end result, colic!


Lipomas can only be fixed with surgery. No one wants a surgical bill on their horse, trust me. Horses that are 10-14 years old are at greater risk if they are obese. How do you fix this? Of course, feeding your horse right is important, making sure they have a balanced diet suitable for their workload. Exercise is of course first and foremost. In addition, there are metabolic diseases that can predispose a horse to be an “easy keeper” and “survive on air.” It is best to call us and work with your veterinarian so if any specific laboratory tests are needed, they can help you get to the root of the problem. Remember, not every horse needs grain.

Preventing a Colic as a Horse Owner by Dr. Gina Tranquillo of All Points Equine


Horses that Crib have been shown to be at a higher risk for colonic obstructions or entrapped small intestine.  Cribbers are 13 more times per likely to get entrapped small intestine. Cribbers are at a 70 fold risk of colonic obstruction and gas colic. How do you prevent this? If your horse is a cribber, use a cribbing strap. Remember, it is not cruel, it is for their own good. In addition, when it comes to cribbers it is like having a toddler – you need to set them up for success, not the failure. Put them in pastures where they don’t have the ability to crib on the top rail of the fence, line it with electric wire. Take the feed tubs OUT of the stall after their meals, if they like to crib on the outer rim of the bucket. Set them up for success, don’t give them the opportunity.

If your horse had colic already, they are likely to colic again, it is simply the name of the game. Obviously, no owner wants to hear this so use they management strategies to prevent it before it happens!


Management Factors:

  1. Mouth health – have a dental exam performed 1-2 x per year by your veterinarian. They will suggest if dental equilibration or floating is necessary. Dental health is very important as this is the first place the food is broken down before traveling to the stomach. If a horse has a poor mouth this will also predispose them to choke as well. Lack of dental care was shown to increase the risk of colic in one study.
  2. Parasite management and targeted deworming using fecal egg counts – our office offers low-cost fecal egg counts. This is where a stool sample is collected at a minimum of twice per year and checked for parasites. The horse will be dewormed or not based on this count. Why is this important? Because only 20% of your horses on your farm shed 80% of your parasites. You need to find the horses that are high shedders and treat them appropriately. In addition, there is a lot of resistance seen when it comes to dewormers in horses (it’s even worse in the goat world). There are no new products or active ingredients on the horizon – do yourself a favor and only deworm when needed! Entrust your veterinarian to set up a program for your farm, your herd, and your individual animals. Parasites can also contribute to colic as well.
  3. Nutrition – this is very important. Work with your veterinarian to get on the right foot to nutrition based on your horses’ age, tooth health, workload, and lifestyle. Not all horses need grain. Not all seniors need senior feed for instance. This is a topic you should keep an open dialogue about at your wellness examinations which should take place twice a year. If you are grain overloading your horse and working them minimally this will contribute to colic.
  4. Environmental management – Anything that throws off your horses’ mojo can contribute to a cause for colic such as changing pastures, introducing new herd mates, trailering the horse to a new location, lack of exercise, lack of turnout, etc. Work hard to maintain a routine. Use consistent feeding programs as well. If you are in a sandy environment be sure to feed hay off the ground so horses are consuming minimal sand.
  5. Injuries – if your horse suffers from an injury and requires stall rest or changes to their exercise, consult your veterinarian about changes in feeding programs. Any rehabilitation management changes should be made to help reduce stress during that time period with the goal to reduce the chances of colic as well.
  6. Water – of course, horses need access to water 24/7. Keep it fresh and keep it clean!
  7. Grain meals – these should be frequent, at least twice a day, better would be three times a day. Horses need continuous access to forage/hay (even in a stall). Stalled horses (due to inclement weather or injury) may need changes in the reduction of grain/concentrate feed and an increase in their hay. Feeding changes should always happen gradually. We suggest over 10-14 days.
  8. Forage/hay – nibble nets or slow feed hay bags/nets can be helpful. This is so the horse can be in a constant grazing mindset. These options are also very helpful for the “easy keeper.” Continuous forage is important
  9. Salt – always provide access to salt if the horse desires through a salt lick/block.
  10. NSAIDs – nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories – these are used by veterinarians day in and day out. They are a necessary part of treatment and many instances. Chronic long-term use can increase the horse’s risk of colic due to the changes and havoc it can wreak on the bowel. Again, let me emphasize, for most horses it is chronic, long-term use which can lead to a condition known as right dorsal colitis, but for some horses, it can occur with short-term use. Therefore, these medications should be used under veterinary guidance, and if you have concerns with this prescription, please discuss it openly with your vet. These medications should not be left in the hands of the novice to give at their own discretion.

Dr. Gina Tranquillo

Feel free to reach out to All Points Equine should you have any questions or concerns about your horse or to schedule your spring wellness examination today! 610.351.1404


References –

Dr. Fogle, NC State, Presentation at NAVC

Horse.com and The Gastrointestinal – GI Tract

Horse.com and The Epidemiology

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