With the snow and cold here to stay, it is important as horse owners to recognize that colic doesn’t pay attention to the calendar. Awareness and preparation combined can help get you and your horses through the winter season colic free!
First, let’s clarify what colic is. In a broad sense, colic is overall abdominal pain. There are various classifications that are more specific to the condition of the horse. Impaction based colic cases are the most common during the winter months. Impactions are caused by an accumulation of various feed materials in the large colon. This blockage can be difficult or even impossible to naturally pass waste sometimes. The severity of colic symptoms can be on a large spectrum, but there are some key signs to look for. With these signs in mind, it is important to have a good understanding of what is normal behavior for your horse.
- Laying down and/or rolling
- Kicking or biting at stomach
- Tail Swishing
- No appetite or thirst
- Pinned ears
These symptoms typically come in different combinations. Again, it is important to understand what normal behavior looks like with your horse to be able to point out strange behavior.
The next few months of cold weather create a few common causes of impaction colics.
- Horses aren’t as willing to walk to water in the cold
- Water tanks often freeze or break, check them daily
- Some horses are picky and need their water to be between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Low Quality Forage
- Already low hydration means that food is more difficult to digest
- Hay and fiber heavy grain lacks the water amount that grass contains
- Added Stress Factors
- Dramatic changes in temperatures or weather conditions increases stress levels
- Avoid extreme changes in daily activity or environment
A combination of these three common causes fosters a potential colic environment. Fortunately, knowledge of the common causes and typical symptoms can allow us horse owners to be proactive with preventative measures.
First and foremost- make sure your water source is abundant and easily accessible. Using water heaters is ideal to keep the water at the optimal temperature between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit. So put on your Carhartts’s and check your water daily to ensure your horse is able to comfortably get the recommended 10-12 gallons they need daily.
Next, reevaluate your horses winter feeding program. The snow covered pastures causes us to add hay to our horses wintertime diet plan. Overall, hay contains much less water than normal pasture grass does. Low quality hay especially can be a large contributor to dehydration. Grain heavy diets are also dangerous. Fiber heavy grain decreases the water content in the large colon. Adding some water to your horses grain is a good way to help with their digestion.
Lastly, actively take steps to keep stressful events to a minimum. Obviously we are not able to control all the stress factors life tends to throw at us. But, control the controllable. Weather changes and extreme weather conditions will naturally increase your horses stress levels. It’s important to minimize the added stressful situations we put our horses in.
Knowing the signs, causes, and taking preventative measures can allow you as an owner to feel more confident and responsible while making sure your horse is safe. If you are unsure, we recommend calling us when you first notice possible signs of potential colic.
Wishing you all a safe, fun, and colic free winter!