Preventing Broodmare Colic

Taking these steps might help protect your mare and her foal.
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broodmare laying down in dirt, rolling
Some signs of labor are similar to those of colic, since both cause abdominal pain. | iStock

Q: I have a broodmare who is due to foal later this spring. My friend’s mare had a severe case of colic late in her pregnancy, and she lost both the mare and the foal. What steps can I take to minimize my mare’s chances of colic before she foals?

A:  I am so sorry to hear about your friend’s loss. It is never easy to lose an animal, especially when both mare and foal are lost. Colic is broadly defined as “abdominal pain,” which in broodmares is usually further classified as coming from either the gastrointestinal tract or the reproductive tract.

Daily assessment of your horse is always important but will become more so as your broodmare enters late gestation. Monitor water intake and hydration status to ensure your mare is getting enough water. You might notice her drinking more than the average 1 gallon per 100 pounds of body weight per day because she must also nourish the fetus. Adequate water intake is also important to ensure feedstuffs will continue to move through the entire digestive tract. Make sure water is always available to the mare. This might require adding buckets beyond what you normally provide, and checking water troughs more frequently.

It is important to make sure she is eating a well-balanced diet of good-quality forages, and grains/concentrates as needed to maintain proper body condition. Her nutrient requirements will increase as the pregnancy progresses, as she will be “eating for two”. You might need to make changes to your mare’s diet to make sure she is getting all the nutrients she and the fetus need. As the fetus develops, the space in the abdomen for the digestive tract decreases. When this occurs, mares might have a decrease in appetite, and might need a more concentrated form of nutrients, such as a commercial feed designed for broodmares. Any changes should be made gradually and after consulting with a qualified equine nutritionist.

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Colic is not uncommon in broodmares in late gestation, as the fetus begins to take up more and more space in the abdomen. This “crowding” of the small and large intestines can cause some dysfunction. More mild incidents are thought to be caused by movement of the fetus, and will likely resolve on their own. You should be concerned if your mare’s behavior toward eating or drinking changes, or if the signs of colic persist. Some changes might be subtle, which is why it is important to monitor her behavior and vital signs daily.

Be familiar with the signs of colic and share this information with anyone else who will be routinely around your mare. As you get closer to the due date, be aware that some signs of labor are the same as a colic episode, since both labor and foaling cause abdominal pain. I cannot stress enough: If your horse is colicking, contact your veterinarian quickly so he or she can assess her, and the fetus, and determine a plan of action.

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Janice L. Holland, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Equine Studies at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. A graduate of both Penn State and Virginia Tech, her equine interests include nutrition and behavior, as well as amateur photography. When not involved in horse activities she enjoys spending time outdoors enjoying nature.

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