Colic is one of the most feared conditions within the equine community. As many horse owners know, colic is an unpredictable, painful, and sometimes fatal condition.

Colic refers generally to abdominal pain in horses that can lead to potentially serious health complications. Cases of colic may present as mild and be resolved in less than 24 hours with or without veterinary treatment. Colic can also be more severe, requiring emergency surgery. [1]
Colic is usually triggered by a combination of factors, including diet, workload, and stress exposure. It can also be caused by gas buildup, feed impaction, grain overload, sand ingestion or parasite infection. [1]

Horses are more susceptible to digestive upset than other domestic animals due to their unique digestive system. Gut disorders, such as colic, diarrhea, or enterotoxemia, represent approximately 50% of medical problems in adult horses. [2]

It’s important to act quickly and call your veterinarian if your horse shows signs of colic, such as pawing, rolling, laying down, loss of appetite or other signs of discomfort.

Colic is something all horse owners strive to prevent. In this article, we will discuss strategies you can employ to reduce the risk of colic and other digestive problems in your horse.

What is Equine Colic?

Colic refers broadly to many forms of abdominal pain or gut upset in horses.

Colic does not discriminate on the basis of age, sex, breed, environment, or workload. It can affect any horse at any time. [3]

Sometimes, a horse owner knows exactly why their horse colicked. However, more often than not, colic is idiopathic, meaning that a specific cause cannot be identified.

As a veterinary condition, cases of colic are described as gastrointestinal or non-gastrointestinal in nature.

Non-gastrointestinal colic cases describe abdominal discomfort due to disorders of the reproductive, nervous, respiratory or musculoskeletal systems.

Gastrointestinal colic cases, which are the more common of the two, describe abdominal upset for reasons linked to digestive imbalances, gut distension, and gut obstructions. [3]

You can learn more about the Different Types and Causes of Colic in this article.

Colic generally describes abdominal pain in horses. It is not always possible to determine the cause of colic but cases may be linked to gut dysfunction, impaction, sand ingestion, or intestinal parasites.

14 Best Ways to Prevent Colic in Horses

Not all forms of equine colic can be prevented. However, horse owners can implement measures to reduce the risk of developing this condition and support good gut health.

The strategies for preventing colic revolve around your horse’s feeding regimen, workload, and management. Here is our list of the top 14 ways to reduce your horse’s risk of colic and other digestive problems.

1) Access to Fresh Water

Providing clean fresh water to your horse at all times is critical to reducing the risk of many gastrointestinal problems, such as colic.

Proper hydration supports digestive function by aiding in gut motility (the transit of food through the digestive tract). If your horse does not drink enough fluid, they are at greater risk of impaction colic.

Water also dilutes stomach acid and is required to produce saliva, which is important for the process of digestion.

Horses should consume roughly two gallons of water per 100 kg of body weight under normal circumstances. A 500 kg (1100 lbs) horse is expected to drink 10 gallons of water per day.

You can help to increase your horse’s water intake by doing the following: [2][4][5]

  • Regularly clean out your water buckets or automatic watering systems
  • Always change the water in your buckets before refilling
  • Ensure access to water in the paddocks at all times
  • Don’t let your horse’s water get too hot in the summer
  • Don’t let your horse’s water get too cold in the winter
  • During training and hot weather, feed electrolytes to encourage greater water consumption
  • Some horses will drink more readily if you flavour their water

As part of your daily management tasks, ensure that good quality water is provided to your horse at all times. This will have a significant impact on reducing the risk of colic and other gastrointestinal problems. [2][4][5]

2) Adequate Salt Intake

Salt is one of the best anti-colic supplements you can give your horse. Salt is a source of sodium, an important electrolyte in the horse’s diet.

Feeding your horse adequate salt will help to increase water intake, prevent dehydration and reduce the risk of gut issues including colic. [2]

Most equine diets are deficient in sodium. This mineral is supplied by forages and complete feeds but is often not provided in sufficient amounts to meet dietary needs.

Horses should consume at least 2 – 4 tablespoons (1 – 2 ounces) of salt per day and should have access to free choice loose salt at all times.

Providing your horse with a salt block is not enough to ensure adequate salt intake. Loose salt is more readily consumed and better able to support hydration.

During hot weather or when in heavy work, you may need to feed more salt to replace what is lost in sweat and to maintain electrolyte balance. [2]