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How can I prevent colic in my horse?

Colic is a common health concern in horses, often indicating abdominal discomfort that could be linked to the gastrointestinal tract. Recognizing its symptoms is essential for timely intervention and improving the horse’s well-being.


Photo by Kersti Nebelsiek.

Just like people, some horses have a higher pain threshold than others and display various signs of abdominal pain. The most common signs include lack of appetite, restlessness, pawing, getting up and down, rolling, kicking at the belly, staring at the belly, staring at the flank and curling the upper lip. Other signs may include decreased bowel movements and, in some cases, diarrhea. It is important to note that while bowel movements are a positive sign, they do not always indicate that the colic has been resolved.


Roughly 90 percent of colic cases respond well to medical treatment, while the remaining 10 percent may necessitate surgical intervention. It’s often challenging to gauge the severity of the condition as some horses may exhibit signs of distress but respond to medical care, while others may display subtle symptoms despite requiring surgery due to underlying intestinal damage. This underscores the importance of seeking prompt veterinary care at the onset of a colic episode.



Horse owners should never administer Banamine or other pain medications before the veterinarian arrives, unless specifically advised to do so. This approach ensures an accurate assessment of the horse’s condition and eliminates the risk of masking a serious issue, potentially delaying necessary surgical referral. While waiting for your vet, remain calm, remove food and prevent the horse from eating. Keep the horse up and moving and prevent rolling. If the horse is comfortable standing, allow it to stand quietly. If it’s more comfortable walking, keep walking until the vet arrives. Some horses may be in too much pain to keep up despite your efforts.


Here are a few strategies to keep your horses’ digestive tract as healthy as possible to help prevent colic:


  1. Access to an ample supply of clean fresh water at all times in important. Horses consume up to 10 gallons of water per day, with higher intake in hot climates. Research indicates that horses prefer buckets or troughs over automatic waterers and generally favor warm water over cold. Consider the use of a trough heater during winter to promote water consumption.

  2. Promote consistent exercise. Horses with regular exercise and turnout are at lower risk of colic.

  3. Given the sandy nature of Kanab and the sediment content in the water, it is crucial to feed horses from a trough or an elevated surface to minimize sand intake. Excessive sand ingestion can lead to digestive tract irritation and contribute to the formation of enteroliths, intestinal stones that can result in blockages and colic. To counteract this, consider preventive measures such as feeding psyllium to aid in sand removal from the digestive tract.

  4. Emphasize a diet primarily comprising high-quality forage such as grass hay or mixed grass/alfalfa hay for your horse. Minimize the amount of grain fed, as substantial grain and concentrate feedings increase the susceptibility to intestinal complications and colic.

  5. Given that 90 percent of colic cases occur within three days of a diet change, always initiate feed modifications gradually over a 10-day period and stick to a consistent feeding schedule.

  6. Schedule an annual examination, oral examination and dental float for your horse, as dental issues can affect the chewing of forage, leading to impaired digestion and potential colic.

  7. Remember to schedule spring and fall fecal parasite evaluations. Excessive parasite loads can lead to colic, particularly in young and aged horses.


Note: The advice provided in this article is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition, please make an appointment with your veterinarian.

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