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.
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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]

3) Increase Turnout

Horses that are stalled with limited turnout are at increased risk of colic compared to horses with access to pasture for prolonged periods of time. [2][4][5]

Research shows that horses kept in a stall for more than 12 hours per day have decreased gut motility. This means that food does not move through their gastrointestinal tract well.

Stall confinement also contributes to boredom and increased stereotypic behaviours such as cribbing, both of which are associated with a higher risk of colic. [2][4][5]

To prevent this, give your horse as much turnout as possible.

Encouraging your horse to express natural species-appropriate behaviors such as foraging, grazing, and socializing within a herd will keep them moving and reduce boredom.

This movement will in turn reduce colic by promoting the transit of food through the gastrointestinal tract and decreasing stereotypic behaviours. [2][4]

4) Use Elevated Feeders

Horses are exposed to large amounts of sand throughout their lifetime, especially if they live in sandy regions. But even horses who don’t reside in sandy geographical areas can encounter sand in their arena, on trails, in their paddocks or in their stalls.

Over time ingestion of sand can lead to serious health complications such as respiratory issues and digestive disturbances. [2][6]

Horses grazing in sandy environments are at risk of sand accumulation in the digestive system. This can result in sand colic which is marked by irritation and obstruction of the gut.

To help prevent sand ingestion, feed your horse from an elevated hay net or feeder so that it is lifted off the ground. [2][6] Soaking your hay can also help remove dust and debris.

Increasing the fibre content of your horse’s diet may also alleviate sand colic and promote the excretion of sand from the digestive tract.

A University of Florida study recommends feeding hay at a rate of 2.5% of body weight to maximize sand removal. This equates to 12.5 kg for a 500 kg horse (or 28 lbs for a 1100 lbs horse).

5) Make Feeding Changes Gradually


Horses have a delicate digestive system that is sensitive to change. Abrupt changes to feed quality, quantity and schedule can increased risk of colic. [4][5][7][8]

Studies show that changing feeding practices multiple times per year greatly increase the risk of colic. Hay changes are the most significant factor for digestive issues. [4][5][7][8]

If you are changing to a different batch of hay, make the transition gradually over two to three weeks.

Ideally, obtain a hay analysis for any new hay being fed so you understand how it compares to your original source of hay.

A hay analysis can also help you ensure your horse’s dietary requirements are being met. You can submit your horse’s hay analysis online and our equine nutritionists will help you balance your horse’s diet.