Management Practices: Reducing the Risk of Colic

Management Practices: Reducing the Risk of Colic

Colic prevention—rather than colic treatment—is much better for both the horse and the owner.


Colic is one of the leading health problems facing horse owners. According to the USDA’s National Health Monitoring System Equine Study from 1998, about 4% of the horse population experiences colic each year, and colic rated second only to old age as the cause of death in equines. The same study indicated that horse owners most commonly identified “unknown” causes for colic, followed by gas colic and feed related.

Feeding management and non-feeding-related management practices can all have an impact on reducing the risk of colic. The following management practices can aid in reducing the risk of colic:

  • Parasite Control: Includes proper sanitation (i.e., pasture and stall cleaning) and a regular deworming program.
  • Dental Care: Be sure to schedule regular dental exams and work, as needed.
  • Fresh Clean Water: A lack of water in both cold and warm weather can increase risk of colic.
  • Consistent Diet: Avoiding sudden changes in either hay or grain could help reduce risk. A survey by Noah Cohen, VMD, MPH, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, et al. in Texas indicated forage changes are associated with colic, as are changes in the grain portion of the diet.  
  • Avoid Starch Overload: Starch overload, or allowing undigested starch to get to the hindgut, is a major cause of gas colic. Limiting meal size, maintaining equal feeding intervals, and selecting controlled starch feed products for a feeding program, could help reduce the risk of starch overload.
  • Feed Additives: Some feed additives, such as direct fed microbials and yeast culture, might also be beneficial in improving forage utilization and digestion.

Colic prevention—rather than colic treatment—is much better for both the horse and the owner.

Reprinted with permission from The Feed Room, by Nutrena.

About the Author

Roy A. Johnson, MS

Roy A. Johnson, MS, is an equine technology manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition. In his role, he is responsibile for the development of horse feeds for U.S. business, including feeds for Nutrena, ACCO, Agway, and private label brands. A former professional horse trainer, farm manager, and horse judging coach, Johnson was an assistant professor in the Agricultural Production Division at the University of Minnesota-Wasecae before joining Cargill. Johnson has also participated in a successful Thoroughbred racing partnership.

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