Preventing colic in horses

Scientific studies show that colic has many contributing causes. Some causes are preventable, such as those associated with high parasite levels, so the risk of colic can be reduced (although not completely prevented) by ensuring that horses are managed well.

Other risk factors such as height of a horse cannot be changed, but by identifying horses at high risk of certain types of colic we can assist vets and owners in trying to minimise the chances of it occurring.

Horse that exhibit stereotypic behaviour (often referred to as 'vices') such as crib-biting and windsucking behaviour are likely to be more at risk of certain colic types such as colon displacements and epiploic foramen entrapment. Unfortunately, horses that have had colic previously are also at greater risk of colic in the future.

Here are some of the ways you can minimise the risk of colic developing in your horse:

Ensure a constant supply of fresh, drinkable water:

  • Especially in winter when buckets can become frozen.

Keep feeding routines as consistent as possible:

  • Dietary changes should be made gradually over 2-3 weeks. Studies show a greater colic risk 7-14 days after diet change.
  • If changing premises for a few days take your horse's feed with you.

Keep turnout routines as constant as possible:

  • Horses should be turned out or exercised for at least an hour a day, even in bad weather.
  • Increased stabling time has been shown to increase the chances of colic occurring.
  • If box resting is necessary, say due to injury, food intake and faeces should be carefully monitored.

Effective parasite control:

  • Keep parasitic levels in the gastrointestinal tract low. Some horses can appear healthy but may be carrying large burdens of parasites such as tapeworms.
  • Discuss your worming strategy with your veterinary surgeon to get the optimal plan for each horse based on their individual circumstances and the results of parasite screening tests.

Regular dental care:

  • Ensure that dental checks are carried out at least every 12 months by veterinary surgeons or suitably trained dental technicians.