As it gets colder, our vets see an increase in the number of cases of impaction colic.

Impactions are often linked to increased time spent stabled, particularly where this represents a change in routine for the horse or pony.  The combination of a reduction in physical activity and reduced water content in their feed (hay has a far lower water content than grass) has a negative effect on gut motility. The cold weather can also exacerbate this effect, as horses have been shown to drink less when the water is very cold.

Clinical Signs

Early signs of impaction colic can include fewer droppings (which may also be smaller than usual and dry), and a reduced appetite. Some horses may exhibit more typical signs of colic, such as rolling, pawing the ground, sweating, kicking at their abdomen and flank watching.

Encourage drinking

Whilst we can’t change the weather, there are things we can do to help reduce its effect on our horses. When it is very cold, providing warm water will help increase water intake and prevent dehydration.  This can be as simple as adding some kettles of hot water to the water buckets a couple of times a day.  Feeding sloppy mashes can be another way to encourage and increase water intake.

Turnout and exercise

If turnout is possible, this should be maintained throughout the winter. If turnout is not possible or is limited, slowing down forage intake (e.g. by double netting or using small hole haynets, or by feeding smaller amounts more frequently) can help maintain gut motility. Some form of daily exercise is also essential, even walking in hand or some time on a horse walker.

Colic is an emergency!

Remember that colic is an emergency! If you are concerned that your horse is showing signs of colic, veterinary advice should always be sought, even if signs are mild.