We see more cases of colic in autumn than at any other time of year. The primary reason for that is the change of diet from spending most of the day grazing to spending more time indoors eating haylage or hay. Horses are very poor at adapting to changes in diet and the most common way they show this is with a bout of colic.
The most common type of colic we see is a gassy or spasmodic colic. This involves an excessive build-up of gas in the large intestine caused by a change in the bacterial flora. The gas causes stretching of the intestinal walls which react by going in to spasm. This can be intensely painful for the horse and they can show the usual array of colic signs from pawing and flank watching to persistently rolling. Unlike with most other causes of colic, the intestines tend to be over-active and droppings continue to be passed. Gassy colic will usually pass off in time but pain killers are usually necessary and medication to reduce intestinal spasm (such as Buscopan) can be helpful. Excessive gas in the intestines also increases the risk of a torsion (twisted gut), displacement (where distended intestine is pushed to somewhere in the abdomen where is shouldn’t be) and entrapment (where intestine becomes caught or tangled). That is one of the reasons why a veterinary examination is always recommended for any horse with colic.
The best ways to minimise the risk of your horse being affected are:
Make any changes in diet gradually - Mix batches of hay / haylage for a few days before changing on to a new batch and introduce new items to bucket feeds a bit at a time.
Try to stick to a daily routine as much as possible. Gradually reduce grazing time by an hour or so each day rather than turning your horse out one day and keeping him in the next.
If your horse has been grazing over summer and isn’t used to haylage, give him some haylage in the field before you start to bring him in.
Feed little and often.
Always allow access to fresh water.
Feed a probiotic supplement during any changes in diet (This can help to reduce a sudden change in the bacteria in the hindgut which could lead to excess gas formation).
If you haven’t done a worm egg count in the past 3 months, do one now (We can post out a kit for you to send off a small droppings sample yourself).
Tapeworms are a recognised cause of colic so if you haven’t had a blood test for tapeworms in the past 12 months, ask the vet to take a sample at your next visit.
All horses (other than foal less than 7 months old) are best wormed with Equest Pramox in late October or early November. Use a weigh tape to dose them more accurately (We suggest adding 10% on to their weigh tape weight to ensure they get an adequate dose).