Brrr!! The weather outside is frightful (well for Florida anyway) and your horse is far from delightful…because he’s colicking. This time of year Dr. Lacher and Dr. King stay very busy treating colicking horses. While I was making them scratch my right ear (I can’t with my broken foot) they explained why this time of year leads to colics.
Part of the problem in Florida is our wide variety of temperatures. A few days ago it was tank tops and shorts and today its heavy jackets. Our horses have a hard time adapting to these rapid changes of temperature! I find staying inside the office with the heat on is the easiest way to deal with cold, rainy days.
The biggest culprit when it comes to winter time colics is WATER! Our horses seem to decide that since it’s a little chilly they don’t need to drink. We then throw out extra coastal hay to keep them from eating the pasture down to nothing. And the combination of not drinking and extra hay equals an impaction and a visit from Dr. Lacher or Dr. King. Dr. Lacher says way back when she was a kid (I think she’s going to limit my cat treats this week for that age comment) bran mashes were commonly feed once weekly. The thought behind this was that the bran moved any sand out of the GI tract. There are at least two problems with the bran mash scenario: bran doesn’t move sand and you just gave your horse a totally different feed type without transitioning the diet. So if bran is out what is in? Just the water. That’s right just water. You can add water to your horse’s meal no matter what you feed. Pelleted and Senior diets readily dissolve in water and soak up a ton of extra water which your horse then consumes because it comes with grain. It’s a lot like getting your children to drink milk by adding Frosted Flakes. Another way to get more water in to your horse’s diet is with soaked beet pulp. This is a great option for our easy keeper patients. Beet pulp shreds with no added molasses are low calorie and will soak up 2-3 times their dry weight in water.
The most common type of impaction from coastal hay is called an ileal impaction. This happens at the very end of the small intestine. The last 12-18 inches of the small intestine are very muscular and narrow. When a bolus of gooey chewed coastal hay with a low water content reaches this area, known as the ileum, the muscle contracts causing pain and stopping the rest of the intestinal contents from passing through. Adding water will help reduce ileal impaction but the best way to make a big impact is to feed a half to one flake of alfalfa hay per day per horse. Alfalfa is high in potassium so it stimulates thirst and it has a natural laxative effect on the GI tract. A small amount of alfalfa really makes coastal a manageable roughage source without adding much in cost.
Let’s talk wardrobe. Your horse doesn’t need an entire SmartPak catalog of blankets and sheets but consider having a waterproof, breathable sheet especially for the geriatrics. If the weather is cold and wet a sheet prevents your horse from getting soaked and if you come home to find your horse shivering you can throw it on to warm him up. If you don’t have a sheet or blanket available throw an extra flake or two of hay. This gets the hind gut fermentation going which in turn produces heat.
What about warm water? An interesting study was done a few years ago which revealed that horses don’t care about the temperature of their water. They will drink more cold than warm water. Just make sure your horse has access through any ice that may form. We find that our Florida horses have no idea how to break that cold hard stuff on top of their water troughs and expect us to do it for them.
I hope you have picked up a few hints to help avoid unexpected visits from the Docs this Holiday season!
May your litter box be clean and your food bowl full! Tony