Colic! WWYVD (What Would Your Vet Do)

Another Fun Read from Dr. Al, Your Pet’s Pal!

Whether your new to LBR or a returning friend, WELCOME and WELCOME BACK!

As we start focusing on the cold months ahead and preparing our barns, pastures, horses and ourselves for winter, we wanted to take a minute to focus on one of the biggest health concerns we face during the winter! COLIC!

While colic’s can happen any day of the year, we often face colic’s in the winter. Most often winter colic’s are related to dehydration, changes in weather, changes in forage, or decreased pasture time. Winter related colic are most often impactions, and typically a few medications to ease pain and relax the horse, as well as some mineral oil and water administration, can do the trick to get your horse back to it’s normal self! Occasionally, treatment at an equine hospital for further treatment may be required. That being said, impaction colic’s are typically easier to treat if intervention is early on.

If you notice your horse just doesn’t seem right, a phone call to your vet is probably worth it. Waiting 16 hours, and calling the vet at 10pm because you can’t sleep because your horse didn’t eat at the morning or evening feedings, and is still uncomfortable, isn’t a good start to a treatment plan.



Impaction colic occurs when digested material slows down and stops moving efficiently in the horses gut. Pain is often associated when distention occurs from forage, feed, and gas getting stopped up behind this blockage.


Dehydration, changes in weather, changes in forage and decreased pasture time, can all contribute to increased risk for colic. As mentioned many times before, it is of the utmost importance for a horse to always have easy access to plenty of water. So making sure that water is thawed at all times, is essential. We highly recommend heated buckets or water trough heaters. Keep in mind, that an average horse will drink 8-10 gallons of water a day, and will not be able to accomplish this with frozen water. Another thing to consider is that some horses do prefer heated water. Other options include adding electrolytes or a teaspoon of salt into feed; this may entice a horse to drink more. Even adding water to feed would provide them an extra source of water. So if you find that your horse is not drinking much, it may be worth a try.

Horses this time of the year go from eating water rich grass, to dry hay. This can be another source of colic. Hay becomes the largest source of forage, and is used for more than just feed, but also to help fuel it’s furnace and create heat during the coldest of days and nights. The problem is, if the horse is only consuming hay  in the morning, in the evening the horse’s gut will start to slow. With the slowing of the gut and the consuming of dry forage, this becomes a large risk for impaction.  Some ideas would be to provide a slow feeder filled with hay, this will allow the hay to be available longer (in most circumstances).  Another way to keep the gut moving effectively would be to make sure that the horse is turned out as much as possible.

Physical activity and movement helps improve the motility of the gut. However, during inclement weather horses may be kept in for long periods of time, and many of these episodes can be sudden.  These sudden changes in a horses activity, diet, and weather can increase your chances of colic. It is hard to say whether it is the weather that causes colic or just the fact that owners are keeping a closer watch over their horses while they are stalled.  So keep an eye on your horse, look for areas where you can add more water, more exercise, or increase forage, and help do your part in preventing colic as much as possible.



If your horse just doesn’t seem right, especially not eating a meal or acting uncomfortable, they may be your first signs. You may also notice the horse becoming unsettled or restless;  they may start pawing, sweating, stretching with hind legs, or looking at belly, rolling, laying down, thrashing, or even trying to lay on it’s back.

Call the Vet before things get worse, but you may want to monitor some vital signs for your knowledge and to give your vet a heads up before his or her arrival. Things you can do: monitor respiration’s, check heart rate, and check temperature are 3 of the easiest ways to check your horses condition.


In conclusion, preventing colic and early detection of possible signs of colic give you the best chance of it not becoming more severe.  Sometimes a quick call to your vet can yield advice that you can use to treat your horse at home yourself.  It at least may give them a heads up so that they may be able to adjust their schedule early in the day to fit you in for a visit.  Probably the biggest factor in preventing colic, especially in the winter is constant access to drinkable water; and that leads into our next discussion….

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