Colic Prevention: Proven Tips to Reduce Risk

Colic is a common, expensive, and potentially fatal condition in horses that owners should try to prevent through proven management strategies. Fortunately, Noah Cohen, VMD, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, associate professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine, has put together studies of the causes of colic into a chapter in the 5th edition of Current Therapy in Equine Medicine. Here our key facts from each of his four management areas:

Diet and feeding

"Changes in diet, specifically changes in the batch, type or amount of hay and in the type or amount of concentrate, are associated with an increased risk of colic." Some horse owners have only been careful when changing their horses' grain, but this finding shows owners must also take care when switching hay. Consider adding a digestive supplement to assist your horse during any diet transition.

Stabling and housing

"Lack of access to adequate fresh water is a risk factor for colic." Studies show horses with access to grass or hay but not water have a higher incidence of colic than horses which were able to eat and drink at the same time. In the winter, horses will drink more water if it is warmed, or if feed is top-dressed with daily electrolytes.


"Both increases and decreases in activity levels may be associated with colic." However, it is difficult to blame colic on changes in activity alone because many times changes in exercise go hand-in-hand with changes in stalling and feeding. For example, a horse that becomes lame might be prescribed stall rest and hay only, when he was used to daily riding, turnout on pasture and full grain. This is another time when a digestive supplement may be helpful in maintaining a healthy GI tract.

Veterinary health management

"Regular administration of an anthelmintic, rather than infrequent purging of parasites, appears to decrease the risk of colic." It makes sense that using a daily dewormer to prevent infestation and migration of parasites would prevent colic due to inflammation of the gut wall or gastrointestinal blood vessels. Farms that perform regular fecal examinations have also been shown to have a reduced incidence of colic.

This is a summary of Dr. Gray's presentation on colic prevention, part of the SmartPak GetSmart series.

GetSmart discussions with Gray will continue in January, February and March, topics to be determined. Discussions are hosted at the SmartPak Store in Natick, Mass. For more information see

About the Author

Lydia Gray, DVM, MA

Lydia Gray, DVM, is Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. She was previously the executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, IL, and an Owner Education Director for the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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