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Preventing Horse Colic

By Jeffrey Rolo

Horse colic is one of the most common equine health problems a horse owner will face, but with the proper preventative measures you can help minimize the chances of your horse developing this condition.

This article will focus on preventing the development of horse colic, but if you would like to learn more about the condition and symptoms read the companion article Addressing Horse Colic.

Displacement (the intestines shift into an unnatural position) and torsion (the intestines twist, thereby creating a blockage) are both fatal unless medical attention is sought immediately. Surgery will almost always be required to cure these forms of colic, and even then you'll need to hold your breath. The bad news is there really aren't any preventative measures you can take to protect your horse from these two forms it's a matter of both anatomical predisposition and/or bad luck. The good news is these are far less common forms of colic, and the rest you can take measures to prevent.

Another fatal form of colic is gastric distension, caused when your horse consumes too much too quickly, thereby causing his stomach to expand. This can be particularly dangerous when the horse consumes too much of a food substance that naturally expands when exposed to moisture. The reason severe overeating is so dangerous is a horse cannot vomit, so once the stomach contains too much food to handle it could very well rupture.

Naturally the preventative measure for this form of colic is simply ensuring your horse does not consume more than he can handle. Don't worry about your horse overeating with grass or hay; when they graze in such a manner their system is more than capable of handling the slow but steady introduction of roughage. Your concern would be allowing your horse to get into your grain or food bins.

The most common forms of colic are digestive issues that can generally be resolved easily enough. They can range in anything from gas (generally uncomfortable, but mild in nature) to a partial or full blockage (these can be very hazardous if not addressed immediately). Like us, a horse's body is designed to work optimally under specific circumstances, and when their normal state of being is disrupted it can lead to the horse form of indigestion, constipation, etc.

To help keep your horse's digestive health in optimal health, make sure you keep the following factors in mind:

bulletDiet Your horse's regular diet should consist of a predominance of roughage, not grain. A horse's body is designed to consume roughage, so when too much protein is introduced via grains or pellets the body may not be able to digest it properly.
bulletDiet Changes If you need to change your horse's diet try and do it in a gradual manner rather than all at once. Sudden transitions can create digestive problems.
bulletWater A horse should always have access to fresh, clean water. When the horse does not drink enough water the body dehydrates a bit and the digestive system slows down. The waste isn't passed through the intestines properly and colic results.
bulletExercise A horse is designed to move around regularly. In fact if you watch them graze in a field you'll notice they are almost always in motion. If a horse is stalled too long his system will slow down, resulting in a potential colic.
bulletIntensive Training Exercise is obviously very beneficial for a horse, but if your horse is suddenly placed on an intensive training program to prepare for a show or race his system will be stressed and his risks of developing colic are higher. Watch any horse under an intensive exercise program carefully.
bulletCooling After your horse finishes an exercise session he must be allowed to cool down before eating or drinking. If your horse must have some water right after an exercise session, make sure you limit his consumption to very small amounts of warm water.
bulletParasites - Make sure your horse is on a proper parasite prevention program as intestinal parasites can cause colic. If your horse is already infested with parasites make sure you gradually de-worm him since if too many parasites are killed at once it can create a blockage within the intestines.
bulletStress Stress is as harmful to a horse's overall health as it is to our own. Try to ensure your horse is kept as calm and happy as possible. Pay closer attention for colic when the horse is placed in stressful situations, such as transportation.
bulletPregnancy Mares are at a higher risk of developing colic, both before and shortly after the foal's birth.

Prevention can do wonders to minimize cases of colic, so make sure you don't underestimate its importance. It's also important to know how to detect warning signs for colic and what to do should your horse exhibit them. Both subjects are covered in Addressing Horse Colic.

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