Top 4 Colic Risk Factors

A study led by Professor Proudman and presented at the Dodson & Horrell International Feeding Conference has shown that nearly all types of colic including epiploic foramen entrapments, large colon impactions and displacements, increase during the autumn. We also know that the number of colic related calls to our Nutritional Helpline peak at this time of year. So, what can we do to help minimise the risk of our horses suffering from colic this autumn?

All scientific research into colic has highlighted that changes in diet, turnout, stabling and exercise are major risk factors. So, it’s not surprising that during the autumn cases of colic increase, as this is when changes in management and feeding practices are more likely to occur.

Some of the common management and dietary changes made during the autumn which can increase the risk of colic include:

  1. Changing the amount of time your horse spends in his stable: The darker nights mean that many of us suddenly start to bring our horses in for the night during the autumn. This has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of colic. To reduce this risk, begin by only bringing your horse into his stable for short periods (e.g. 1 hour) and gradually increase the time he spends there.
  2. Changing the type of forage you feed your horse: Towards the end of the autumn many of us start to feed preserved forages such as hay or haylage rather than grass. This is a massive change to the diet and could disrupt the delicate balance of bacteria in your horse’s gut if not done slowly. You should aim to gradually introduce hay/haylage into your horse’s diet by feeding a little in the field before it becomes essential.
  3. Feeding increased amounts of concentrate feed: The colder weather may mean that your horse needs slightly more concentrate feed to maintain the correct weight. To avoid this contributing to an increased risk of colic, it’s very important that you keep your meals small. Remember the horse's stomach is only the size of a rugby ball and feeding large concentrate meals can result in cereals passing into the hind-gut undigested, which increases the risk of colic. Also make sure that your concentrate feed contains cooked cereals. Cooking helps maximise digestion in the small intestine and reduces the risk of cereals reaching the hind-gut.
  4. Feeding a new concentrate feed: If you have to completely change your horse's concentrate feed during the autumn (i.e. if his workload significantly increases or he is losing weight), make sure you do it slowly. Start by feeding a small handful and gradually increase the quantity over 7-10 days.

It is also a good idea to feed a probiotic supplement such as Yea-Sacc when changing feeds as it may help the bacteria in the digestive system to adjust.

More information on colic can be found at http://www.liv.ac.uk/equinecolic/ or if you want to know more about the best way to feed your horse this autumn speak to one of our Nutritional Advisors on 0845 345 2627.