Tuesdays with Tony
Preventing Colic as the weather changes
Have you noticed it’s a bit nicer to be outside lately? It’s almost autumn in Florida and I’m enjoying my cat naps on the Springhill porch even more. And while Florida’s autumn has more to do with the changing of license plates colors than it does with leaves, there are still some seasonal effects you’ll notice around your farm. While it’s still pretty hot out, those shorter fall days are already creeping up on us, and with them will come slower growing grass, and hay season. I know it’s hard to imagine when the grass is still green and it’s still hot out, but now is the time to prepare for the autumn. You know how sensitive horses are, and so you’ll want to help your horse through the seasonal transition to reduce the chance of colic.
You’ll want to make your autumn plan now, while it still feels like summer out – because changes involving a horse’s GI tract must be done very sloooooowwwwly. Their bellies are delicate systems and making feed changes quickly is certain to throw them off balance. You’ll want to start slowly introducing hay long before the last of the grass is eaten. Even if you have already been feeding hay, increasing the amount to compensate for less grass must also be done very gradually.
If your horse has only been eating pasture, begin by adding 5-7 pounds of hay per feeding. Coastal hay especially should be started slowly. Throwing a bunch of hay at a GI tract that’s been used to green grass is a recipe for an unscheduled visit from my docs. Add an additional 2-3 pounds of hay every 4-5 days until your horse is leaving some hay behind. Absolutely DO NOT put a roll of coastal hay out and let your horse gorge on it when he hasn’t been acclimatized to it. There is no better recipe for a type of colic called an ileal impaction.
You’ll also want to plan ahead to make sure you find a good source of QUALITY hay. My docs see a lot of colics caused by feeding poor quality hay. Let me tell you, one emergency visit to treat a colic is a lot more expensive than feeding a better quality hay to start with.
Add some legumes
Since your horse will be consuming more dry feed, like hay, as autumn progresses, there is more risk of an impaction colic. Coastal hay is an especially common cause, and if your horse eats this type of hay, you should plan on supplementing him with another type of hay to reduce the risk. Legume hays, like alfalfa and peanut, are salty, which helps remind your horse to drink. They also have a laxative effect on the GI tract. Both hays bring water into the gut, which helps prevent impactions. Small amounts of these hays do wonders and can dramatically reduce the colic risk. Take care that your horse doesn’t become overweight on legume hays though – they are calorie dense.
Get water into your horse
If your horse is well hydrated, he is at less risk for an impaction colic. An average sized horse should drink approximately 10 gallons of water a day. Regularly clean out your horse’s buckets and troughs and make sure to change the water in the buckets before refilling. (I’ve seen horses poop in their buckets, haven’t you?) Keep an eye on his manure. Does it look moist and slightly shiny, or is it dry and crumbly-looking, or packed into hard fecal balls?
Get your horse used to eating soaked feed. Adding water to your horse’s grain to make it into a soup can get extra water into their system. You can even wet down his hay to increase its water content. Water consumption is especially important when the weather changes or you get a new shipment of hay. Some horses will need some time to get used to the soupy consistency of soaked feed, so introduce it ahead of time. Some horses will drink flavored water. A great way to encourage drinking is to put a few handfuls of your horse’s favorite grain into a bucket of water to make a “sweet tea”. Other horses are partial to water flavored with apple juice or Gatorade. Of course, you should continue to offer plain water as well.
We often talk about electrolytes in the summer to help replenish what is lost in sweat, but in autumn and winter, adding loose salt or electrolytes to your horse’s diet can also help to stimulate thirst and encourage water consumption.
Other stuff to avoid colic
Provide your horse as much turnout as possible. Horses evolved to be moving around constantly. Horses that are stalled with limited turnout have an increased risk of colic. Moving around the pasture promotes gastrointestinal motility, which promotes the normal transit of food through the gut.
Make sure your horse’s dental exam is up to date. Feed that isn’t adequately chewed is harder to digest, resulting in yet another risk factor for impaction colic. The dental float should be performed once a year, so call my doc if your horse is due!
These tips apply at any time of the year to help reduce the chance that your horse will colic, but during times of weather change it’s especially important to plan ahead. Go source your good quality hay, make a feeding plan, and feel prepared for autumn to arrive! It’s still almost 90 degrees, but I hear my Springhill staff talking about pumpkin spice lattes, so I’m out of here in case they go looking for that ridiculous plaid cat sweater they offend me with every year.
Until next week,
P.S. Looking for more information on colic? Make sure you head on over to the podcast page; my docs have even more indepth talks about this. You can find the podcast by clicking here. Also, just a reminder, we are having our first in house seminar this week! It’s on Equine Asthma & Allergies. We are limiting the attendance to 20 people. You can call the office at 352-472-1620 to get your name on our guest list!
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!