What Causes Colic in Horses?


Five common mistakes owners make that may cause colic:

1 . Changing feed suddenly.

Horses are creatures of habit. They do best when fed the same thing at the same time and in the same amount. A common mistake is changing types of feed. For example, changing from oats to a pellet feed without allowing time for the horse to adjust can lead to colic. Because there is a difference in consistency of feed and how it is digested, abrupt change can alter some of the digestive processes in the horse’s stomach. It takes time for the GI tract of horses to adjust to a different type of feed. Always change feed little by little over a two to three week period.

2. Allowing water to freeze in winter.

Some horses will not drink extremely cold water or will not break ice to drink. Lack of water consumption can lead to colic because a horse’s GI tract can become impacted. The amount of water consumed is a significant factor in preventing impactions. If the food material is too dry as it moves through the digestive system, it is more likely to cause a blockage.

3. Changing hay types (example: from Fescue to Bermuda Hay).

Similar to number one (above), the horse’s GI tract needs time to adjust. Different hays have different textures and switching abruptly leads to a great risk of colic.

4. Excessive exercise to horses (“out of shape”).

Like us, horses need conditioning to be in shape. It is important to increase exercise gradually to get horses “fit” and ready for extreme exercise.

5. Forgetting the “parasite problem”.

Horses should be checked at least once yearly for parasites. Also a deworming program should be established by your veterinarian. Parasites can lead to colic and weight loss.


Dr. K. Derek Wessinger