Feeding to Prevent Colic

Horses are more prone to digestive upset than other domestic animals because of how their GI tract functions.
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Feeding to Prevent Colic
You can improve your horse’s digestive health by managing his dietary regimen the way nature intended. | Photo: Thinkstock

Horses are more prone to digestive upset than other domestic animals because of how their gastrointestinal tract functions and how we feed them.

When you go to the barn for evening chores you hear banging in the far stall–your horse is down and rolling. He gets to his feet when you run to the stall, but immediately starts pawing and circling and quickly drops down again to roll. He’s sweaty and in pain–clearly, he’s colicking. As you call the veterinarian you run through your mental checklist, beginning with the important question, “What did I feed him today?”

Anthony Blikslager, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, professor of equine surgery and gastroenterology at North Carolina State University, sees colic cases regularly. “When I finish with a colic surgery, the owner often asks what he/she can do to avoid colic in the future,” he says. “It all goes back to basic management, and nutrition is an important part of that management.”

Equine Digestion is Unique

Related Content: Digestion in the Horse
Related Content: Digestion in the Horse

Horses are more prone to digestive upset than other domestic animals because of how their gastrointestinal (GI) tracts function and how we feed them. The horse evolved as a grazing animal, and his digestive tract is designed to utilize forage. It functions best and remains healthiest when he’s allowed to roam at pasture, eating more or less continuously and consuming small amounts often. In domesticating horses we’ve confined them and typically feed hay and grain in scheduled meals. This unnatural environment often leads to digestive problems and colic

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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