Well here we are again … winter! The average horse owner is likely well-acquainted with his or her horse’s colic risk regardless of the season, but with cold weather come complicating factors that all owners should prepare for.

The No. 1 cause of colic during winter is a lack of fresh, unfrozen water. Horses must drink 10-12 gallons of fresh water every day and can dehydrate quickly if water is unavailable. Horses that aren’t getting enough water are at a greater risk for conditions such as simple indigestion or impaction. A frozen water trough is the usual dehydration culprit, but occasionally horses choose to not drink water simply because it is so cold. Heaters for your troughs and buckets are therefore an absolute “must” to ensure continual access to water in the winter. Keep in mind that electrolyte supplements are not a suitable water substitute and do not mitigate the risk of dehydration. There is nothing wrong with adding (appropriate amounts of) electrolytes to your horse’s diet, but offer them in a separate container, leaving the main water supply clean and fresh. Horses might attempt to eat snow to compensate for some fluid loss, but snow is largely composed of air and will not provide the volume of water necessary to hydrate a 1,000-pound animal.

The treatment for a case of dehydration is fairly obvious: fluid replacement. On the farm, your veterinarian will most likely pass a stomach tube through the horse’s nose and administer oral fluids as well as an intestinal lubricant such as mineral oil. In cases of moderate or severe dehydration, intravenous fluids can be administered via catheter for a much quicker delivery route, but most veterinarians will choose to administer these types of treatments in a more controlled clinic setting. Use of oral or injectable anti-inflammatories such as flunixin meglumine (Banamine) and phenylbutazone (Bute) is also commonplace.

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