Risk Factors for Equine Colic

Colic is the most frequent emergency encountered in equine practice. It is an important cause of disease and death in horses, and has been an area of particular interest and concern for horse owners and equine veterinarians. It is a commonly recognized problem of all breeds at all levels of performance. Most horse owners are familiar with the problem of colic, but factors most often associated with colic are commonly misunderstood. The following information is presented in an effort to better educate our clients with some of the risk factors associated with colic and has been compiled from research at veterinary colleges throughout the country.

• Changes in diet (particularly in the type of hay fed and/or the batch of hay or recent change in the type of grain) contribute to an increased risk of colic; changes in hay and grain cause alterations in colonic pH, Volatile Fatty Acid production, and colonic microflora.

• Hay of poorer quality is often less digestible, thereby predisposing to colonic impaction

• Horses fed large quantities of grain (>6 lbs) are at greater risk of developing colic

• Horses fed in sandy environments have an increased risk of sand impactions

• A recent change of weather and humidity are significantly associated with increased risk of colic

• A recent change in stabling is associated with increased risk of colic

• A recent change in activity level is associated with increased risk of colic

• Horses that become dehydrated are at greater risk of developing colic

• Horses of increased age are at greater risk of developing colic (>10 years of age)

• Horses with a previous history of colic are at greater risk of developing colic
(approximately 30%)

• Horses with a previous history of abdominal surgery ( • A regular program for administration of anthelmintics can reduce the frequency with which colic develops; however, it will not eliminate the risk.

• Horses at pasture may be at lower risk of developing colic compared to horses primarily housed in a stall

• Horses that receive no exercise other than in the pasture are at a lower risk of developing colic than those exercised at least once a week and/or used for showing

• Horses in the primary care of an owner have a lower risk of colic

• Chronic, intermittent colic may have many likely causes such as gastric ulceration, intestinal neoplasia (cancer), recurrent colonic impactions from motility disorders or intra-abdominal abscesses.

This list is just a few of the many risk factors associated with equine colic.

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