The risk of impaction colic increases dramatically for all horses over the winter months, a direct result of eating drier forage—hay versus pasture—while drinking less water because of cooler temperatures. A painful blockage can form anywhere in the intestines but often occurs at the pelvic flexure, the portion of the large colon that folds back on itself in a hairpin turn. Older horses are at an even higher risk of impactions due to age-related dental problems that make it difficult to chew hay thoroughly.
• Plan ahead: Before the cold weather arrives, have your veterinarian do a full oral checkup. If you horse is older dental care isn’t always as simple as floating; extractions, periodontal treatment or other work may be needed to ensure he can comfortably and effectively chew his hay all season long. Your veterinarian can identify possible problems and address them.
• Set in place a strategy for keeping your horse hydrated. This means ensuring that the temperature of his water buckets and troughs stay slightly above freezing all season long. Multiple studies have shown that horses are more likely to drink slightly warmed water and numerous products—from submersible heaters to insulated buckets—are available to achieve this. But you may also need to give your horse a hydration “boost” in anticipation of a particularly cold bout of weather. Electrolytes, a staple of summer months, can help by triggering a thirst response. Just follow the dosing instructions on the product and ensure your horse has access to plenty of unfrozen water afterwards.
• Have a plan ready should a problem occur. If your horse colics during the winter, you will of course want to call your veterinarian immediately but there are other things to do while you wait for help to arrive. Remove all feed from his stall as you wait but leave his water bucket. Do not attempt to hydrate the horse with a syringe or hose or any other method. You do not need to walk a horse with impaction colic unless he’s so uncomfortable that he may thrash around and hurt himself. Fortunately, when caught early, most impactions are treatable with medication. And even if surgery is required, research suggests that older horses have just as high a chance of making a full recovery as do younger horses.
Don’t miss out! With the free weekly EQUUS newsletter, you’ll get the latest horse health information delivered right to your in basket! If you’re not already receiving the EQUUS newsletter, click here to sign up. It’s *free*!