Colic In Horses Kept In Box Stalls or Very Small Paddocks

QUESTION: We had horses before when I was growing up, who lived outside year round, mostly on pasture. They never Coliced. Sometimes they were not very fat but never Coliced? Now I have gotten back into horses many years later and have had two episodes of Colic. I keep them in stalls in a barn or else in 20 X 30 foot pens. I feed them lots. Even then one is thin? Any ideas?

ANSWER: Horses are natural grazers and pastured horses rarely suffer from feed-related causes of Colic. That's too often not the case with today's specialized athletes. Who are housed in stalls or very small barren paddocks and consuming large amounts of grains and concentrated feeds. Owners and managers should strive to balance the nutritional needs of today's horse with the natural functioning of the equine gastrointestinal tract.

Rule number one is to feed horses as individuals, based on age, weight, activity and body condition. Divide the amount of grain into "TWO or THREE" equal daily feedings, provided at the same time each day.

Slow feed consumption by placing the feed container at ground level, by providing a smaller sized salt block in the grain container, or a couple of large rocks, or some chopped forage mixed in. The ideal feed container is also wide and shallow so it takes more time to consume the grain in it.
The horse's stomach is small, so limit grain to no more than one-half percent of body weight per feeding (a maximum of five pounds for a 1,000 pound horse). If you must feed more than one percent of the horse's body weight in grain daily (more than 10 pounds per day for a 1,000 pound horse), divide the ration into three equal feedings instead of two with several hours between each feeding.

Weigh your feed in the container that you use to decide the ration. A two-quart feed scoop can hold less than two pounds or almost four pounds of a grain or concentrate feed, depending on the bulk density. Since overfeeding grain is a major cause of Colic, knowing the exact weight will help you determine how much to feed each horse depending on his weight, age, activity level and present body condition.

Provide adequate hay or pasture. Feed a minimum of one percent of the horse's body weight daily (10 pounds for a 1,000 pound horse). NOTE: Rarely is 1% enough hay for a horse unless no longer young and growing, not pregnant, not lactating, not a breeding stallion, not a senior (aged) horse and not being ridden or worked hard. 2% up to 3.5 % is often needed unless being fed not only grains but concentrated rations high in protein, etc. OR alfalfa cubes/pellets. THUS BASICALLY 1% OF THE HORSES BODY WEIGHT IS FINE FOR ONLY A MATURE HORSE WHO IS IDLE.

At least two to ten + acres per horse are needed to provide sufficient forage, based on the season and that particular areas forage/grasses available. NO TWO REGIONS ARE THE SAME WHEN IT COMES TO HOW GOOD AND PLENTIFUL FORAGE IS. This does not include winter conditions where the forage is hidden by snow forcing the horse to paw (hard work) to scrounge for feed. The horse then needs to be fed roughage/hays.

Never allow horses to consume moldy feed or hay. Moldy hay can contain high levels of aflatoxins. These fungal toxins can cause symptoms ranging from severe digestive upset (such as Colic) to Chronic Heaves (COPD) to liver and brain damage that can be fatal.

Keep all feeds in areas that are inaccessible to horses. In addition, if cattle feeds are present, extra caution should be used to prevent horses from consuming feeds labeled for ruminants only. These feeds may contain additives such as monensin, lasolocid or urea poisonous to horses.

Change rations slowly so the microbial population in the horse's large intestine can adapt. Never increase the feeding rate by more than one pound per day. When switching to a new feed, gradually replace the old with the new feed (25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent) over a seven- to 10-day period. THIS IS A MUST TO PREVENT COLIC, etc.

Use a similar method with a new type of hay, especially when switching between a legume hay (alfalfa, clover, etc.) and a grass hay (timothy, orchard grass, Bermuda grass, brome, etc.). When first starting horses on pasture, allow them to graze for only a few hours, and feed hay before turning them out.

Growing, breeding and performance horses require more energy than good-quality forage alone can provide. If your horse requires a large amount of calories and must be fed 10 pounds or more of grain daily, consider adding supplemental fat to the diet or using a fat-added feed (greater than three percent fat). Because fat is a more concentrated source of calories, adding fat or using a fat-added feed allows you to feed less grain, more forage. One pound of stabilized DRY bran (always soak with water before feeding bran) will replace 1.5 to 2 pounds of grain in a daily ration.

Provide adequate amounts of major and trace minerals. Adequate mineral consumption is necessary for regulation of body water balance and thirst response to dehydration, which will lessen the risk of impaction colic. NOTE: Don't forget the all important salt block unless necessary amount of salt is available in other supplement sources.

Have your horse's teeth checked at least once per year by a certified equine dentist, who can have the teeth floated when necessary.

Dental problems could prevent your horse from adequately chewing its feed; proper maintenance of its teeth will decrease the chances of Impaction Colic. Teeth that need to be floated, etc. also prevent a horse from keeping weight on.

Provide a balanced ration using guidelines easily attainable from your local Veterinarian or a person who specializes in Equine Nutrition from your area. NOTE: Please don't forget that all regions are different. Following guidelines from one region may not work for your region. This is very important, especially in regions with a shorter summer season and long, cold winters. Type of forage can also vary greatly from one region to another.

(1) Weigh your feeds to know how much to feed. Also evaluate each horses feed by age, weight, activity level and body condition.

(2) Provide fresh, clean water 24 hours a day.

(3) And follow the golden rule. REGULAR EXERCISE and turn out time. Your horse needs an environment as close to nature as possible. Meaning daily turn out time in a large enough area so that they can exercise freely. Preferably with some available grass for foraging. Working the horse under saddle or harness is also very important for exercise. Research studies have shown that not only are horses happier and more content with regular exercise and turn out time BUT also have a far lower incidence of Colic than horses continuously stalled. Be kind to your horse and make his entire life as close to natural as possible. He will thank you for it by being not only healthier but happier.
Gastrointestinal bleeding is a potential danger, but "Buffered" or "Enteric Coated" Aspirin does not produce gastric ulcers (bleeding) in dogs nearly as often as Aspirin in humans.

(4) Glucosamine with Chondroitin and MSM is well worth a try. Expect up to 90 days to see a huge difference. It does not happen overnight so do not expect instant results. Otherwise don't give up after just a few weeks!!! To learn more about this, please click on OUR ARCHIVES. Scroll down until you come to Newsletters (dog related). Then click on October 20/2004 Glucosamine For Joint Problems.

(5) Speak with your Vet about injecting "Corticosteroids" into the joint?

(6) Surgical Fusion of painful joints, such as the Hock or Elbow, relieves pain and restores limb movement in some individuals. Or Joint replacement may be another surgical alternative.

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