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  • June 01, 2023 3 min read

    Reducing Impaction Colic in Horses

    Impaction colic is a common and potentially serious condition that affects horses, causing discomfort, pain, and, in severe cases, life-threatening complications. It occurs when a blockage forms within the digestive tract, hindering the normal movement of ingested food. Whilst impaction colic can occur at any time of the year, it is more prevalent in the winter months which is a direct result from eating drier forage and drinking less water. However, with proper care, management, and preventive measures, the risk of impaction colic can be significantly reduced. This article aims to explore various strategies horse owners can implement to promote digestive health, ensuring the overall well-being of these magnificent animals.

    Consistent Hydration

    Adequate hydration is crucial for maintaining proper digestion and preventing impaction colic. As a guide, horses should be drinking between 25 to 50 litres of water per day. Horses should always have access to clean, fresh water, both in their stables and pastures. Ensure that water troughs are cleaned regularly and that they are placed in convenient locations, encouraging horses to drink frequently. There are a number of ways to encourage your horse to drink more water, and these include; offering sweetened water with molasses or apple juice, warming the water, adding salt or electrolytes to feed or water and feeding more forage. Soaking hay or providing moistened feed, including soaked feed such as beet pulp or copra can also contribute to increased water intake.

    High-Quality Forage and Feeding Practices 

    The equine digestive system is designed for continuous grazing, making access to high-quality forage essential for digestive health. As a general rule, horses should go no longer than 4 hours without forage, and should consume between 1% to 1.5% of their body weight in forage per day. It is important to offer horses a balanced diet consisting of good-quality grass hay or pasture, providing sufficient roughage for optimal gut motility. Avoid sudden changes in diet or introducing large amounts of grain, as these can disrupt the delicate microbial balance in the gut and increase the risk of impaction.

    Regular Exercise and Turnout

    Regular exercise and turnout are crucial for maintaining a healthy digestive system in horses. Movement stimulates gut motility, preventing the stagnation of food in the intestines. Aim for daily turnout in a well-maintained pasture or paddock, allowing horses to graze and move freely. If turnout is limited, provide daily exercise routines that include both cardiovascular work and free movement, such as lunging or hand-walking.

    Proper Dental Care 

    Horses rely on their teeth to grind and break down food effectively. Regular dental check-ups and floating (filing down sharp points and uneven surfaces) are essential to ensure proper chewing and digestion. Sharp or uneven teeth can result in inadequate mastication, leading to larger feed particles that are more prone to causing blockages in the digestive tract. Consult with a qualified equine dentist or veterinarian to establish a dental care schedule tailored to your horse's needs.

    Preventing Sand Ingestion 

    Ingesting sand can contribute to impaction colic, as it accumulates in the intestines and disrupts normal motility. Implement management practices that minimize sand ingestion, such as providing feed and water in raised containers or using rubber mats under feed containers and hay nets to prevent accidental sand intake. Additionally, consider feeding horses from hay nets or racks positioned off the ground to reduce the likelihood of sandy forage consumption. Another option to reduce sand accumulation is to feed your horse psyllium husk for 5 days each month. This will help reduce sand accumulation in the gut. 

    Implementing a Worming Plan 

    Round worms live inside the small intestine and when a horse is wormed, part of the round worm population is killed. When the round worm population becomes large it can cause an intestinal blockage within the small intestine. So, it is essential that your horse has a Fecal Egg Count and a worming plan put in place to reduce intestinal worm populations. This is particularly important for young horses and those that have not been wormed regularly. 

    Preventing impaction colic in horses requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses proper hydration, high-quality forage, regular exercise, dental care, and sand prevention. By implementing these strategies and incorporating them into a horse's routine, owners and caretakers can significantly reduce the risk of impaction colic. Regular veterinary check-ups are also vital to monitor the horse's overall health and catch any potential issues early on. By prioritizing digestive health, we can enhance the well-being of these magnificent creatures, allowing them to thrive and enjoy a happy life.

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