We’ve had two cases of colic at our barn in the last week. Why? Is it the weather? Is the pasture too dry? Is there too much/too little grass? Was there something different growing/blooming/going to seed? Are the horses not drinking enough? Should the salt blocks be changed? Was the moon in the wrong phase the week before summer started the same day the barn manager wore the red shirt instead of the blue one?
Colic is a frustrating disease. It’s hard seeing our horses in pain and not being able to do much about it. Even the best, most meticulous management can’t guarantee that a horse won’t colic.
This month, we delve in-depth into the mysterious disease that is colic. The cover story is written by one of the "gurus" of the belly, Nat White, DVM, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Surgeons, of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Virginia. He looks at all the recent studies on colic, compares and contrasts the findings, and explains what they mean.
Having someone of his caliber review all the current literature on the subject, then translate that information into something we can understand and use, is a tremendous help for those of us who want to know more about protecting our horses from this disease.
The predisposing factors of colic are varied, and sometimes vague. However, there have been some eye-openers in determining what might lead to colic, and what researchers have dispelled as causes of colic.
Here are some facts that White reveals to us about colic:
- Colic kills more horses than any other disease.
- Your horse has about a one in 10 chance of having colic.
- Of those horses which colic, 1% to 2% will require surgery.
- The colic fatality rate in the general population of horses is 6.7%.
White discusses findings from studies that have been done in general horse populations as well as horses in veterinary clinics, veterinary schools, and equine hospitals. Those studies reveal some incidents that increase the risk of colic. Those factors are as follows:
1) Change in diet.
2) Change in activity.
While many of these factors are things that commonly occur with our horses (some of which—such as vaccination, transport, and pregnancy—we cause), knowing the increased risk at least lets us be forewarned. If we know that colic is highly associated with certain factors and the risk for our horse is increased, we can be more alert and able to detect colic early on.
According to the studies, the combined factors shown to increase the risk of colic are as follows:
1) Feeding grain and the horse’s having a vice (such as cribbing).
2) Grain and transport.
3) Sudden inactivity and diet change.
Therefore, we know before we buy that cribber as an event or endurance horse which will be fed grain because of his nutritional needs that his risk of colic is increased.
However, there are contradictory facts found in the various studies of colic. That in itself points out the need for further research into this painful killer.
We know that broodmares are at greater risk of colic. We know that risk is compounded by feeding a broodmare grain and transporting her for breeding. We know that any reduction in water intake, even for a short period of time, increases her risk. We know if she cribs that her risk of colic increases.
But when do the factors add up to the point that this animal is a poor risk as a broodmare and should do something else? Can we do anything to help reduce her chances of colic?
White points out several ways to assist horses in avoiding colic. Those preventatives include the following:
1) Provide greater than 60% of energy needs from forage.
2) Always have free-choice water.
3) Change activity levels and diet slowly.
4) Don’t change daily feeding or exercise schedules.
5) Control parasites.
There are tools to help our horses avoid colic. But when all the preparations aren’t enough, we have to know what to do to give our horses the best chance for survival. White does an excellent job of preparing us for what to expect. It then is up to each individual horse owner to have a plan of action worked out with his or her own veterinarian.
Our June cover story on disaster planning revealed that the number one cause of loss of life of horses in disaster situations is theft. This is something we face every day, even if we don’t know it. A thief can strike at any time, at any place, and for any type or value of horse. Very seldom is ransom or pedigree the cause of a horse being taken. The number one reason for theft is so the horse can be re-sold, either as a pleasure mount or, most often, to slaughter.
As Amelita Donald says in her Horse Theft Prevention Handbook: "The bottom line (for most horse thefts) would read: No identification, no evidence, no witnesses, no suspects."
The Horse Theft Prevention Handbook is the latest addition to The Horse Health Library. In the book, Donald uses real-life tales of stolen horses of all types and price ranges to emphasize her points.
"Lucky Lady, Miss Sunny, and Sugar Pal might not have cost much or won fortunes, but they were worth millions in the lives of the people they touched. They have never been found."
Complete with appendices that list resources for equine identification, equine abattoirs (slaughter houses) on the federal inspection list, and equine brand inspection programs in North America, the 66-page book talks of actual thefts, and how you can protect your horse from joining those which have been stolen.
Famous Thoroughbreds, young foals, and aged Quarter Horses all are at risk. While the handbook can’t guarantee your horse won’t be stolen, it can help you better secure your horse, and your property, and deter would-be thieves.
Do you know what to do in the first crucial 24 hours after your horse is stolen?
About the Author
Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.
POLL: University Equine Hospitals