Colic in Horses is Not a Disease

July 28, 2008 (published) | January 29, 2020 (revised)

Dr. David Ramey from Los Angeles wants to remind all horse owners that colic is not a disease but only a clinical sign of a disease.  Just like babies’ colic and people with tummy aches, these are not diseases but clinical signs. Colic simply means the horse is experiencing abdominal pain but it may not even be related to the GI tract although it’s commonly of GI origin.  He also indicates that methods to prevent all colics are unlikely to be effective, such as changing feeding programs, changing exercise programs or a adding a supplement. 

However, there are some things you can do to keep your horse’s digestive tract as healthy as possible, and the main thing is to make sure the horse has plenty of clean, fresh water.  Horses drink up to 10 gallons of water a day or more in a hot climate. Horses prefer buckets to automatic waterers because when they drink, they usually want to drink a lot, which is difficult with an automatic waterer.  And they generally like warm water versus cold water.  Next allow your horses to exercise as much as possible as it has been shown that horses in pasture colic less than those kept in stalls.  If your horse is boarded in sandy soil areas, it is important to feed your horses in a trough off the ground to decrease sand intake as sand can cause irritation to the digestive tract and even blockage, leading to colic.  Make sure that the majority of your horse’s diet is high quality forage, either grass in the pasture or hay.  Also, feed as little grain as possible because grain and concentrates increase the risk of intestinal problems.  Another important fact is that 90% of colic cases occur within 3 days of a food change, so always gradually change feed and even hay over a 10-day period and always feed horses on a regular schedule.

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