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Too-Rapid Change in Horse Rations Can Cause Colic

By Donald Stotts

STILLWATER - As the temperature turns colder, horses will need more feed to replace energy loss brought about by harsher weather conditions.

But horse owners must practice sound management in altering their animals' rations if problems with colic or founder are to be avoided, said Dave Freeman, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service equine specialist.

"Concentrate composition and amounts should be increased gradually over a period of several days, especially if the horses are already consuming large quantities of grain," Freeman said. "If ration changes occur too rapidly, horses may suffer from colic."

A horse's anatomy makes the animal very susceptible to colic, an acute abdominal pain caused by various abnormal conditions. Nutritional causes of colic include mismanagement such as abrupt changes in diet, consumption of moldy grain or hay, overfeeding energy at a single feeding or improper digestion and impaction of nutrients brought on by ineffective deworming programs.

Horses suffering from colic may exhibit symptoms such as restlessness, pawing, looking at their sides constantly or violent rolling.

Since colic can occur from many different causes, owners who observe signs of colic in a horse should remove all feed, hay and water, then call their local veterinarian immediately.

"Knowing how to measure a horse's respiration rate, heart rate and temperature, then relaying this information to your veterinarian will help in his initial diagnosis or treatment, " Freeman said.

Horses that will lie quietly can be allowed to do so. However, colic-suffering horses should not be allowed to roll. A horse has about 100 feet of intestines, most of which floats free in the abdomen. This free flotation makes it easy for the intestines to become tangled or displaced.

Additional information about colic is available at all Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service offices by asking for Extension Facts No. 3973, "Feeding Management of the Equine." This publication contains information on the physiology of horses, causes of colic and proper feed management.


We would like to take this opportunity to thank Oklahoma State University for allowing us to provide you with this information.


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