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  • Writer's pictureSarah L Rhoades, DVM

About those impaction colics...

Updated: Jan 15, 2021

About those impaction colics! It always makes me nervous and pray to the colic lords when we have these cold spurts - 3 or 4 days of consistent cold temperatures two things happen:

1) Your horses don't drink as much, the water is cold, and who *really* wants a big 'ol glass of ice water of such a frigid day? - I would entirely challenge you to actually measure this!

2) Your horses seek out and eat more dry matter, long stem forage. See horses are fantastically cold adapted - that hay gets down into their truly massive large intestine, where bacteria then break it down into particles their body can utilize and absorb. This process of fermentation, generates significant amounts of heat. They literally have a furnace going, inside their body, fueled by hay. It's incredible! (and why older horses that can't chew quite so well need extra TLC during these cold months.) .... but when they aren't drinking appropriate amounts of water, and eating more dry matter... you can imagine what happens is now you get this clump of dried out ingesta, that doesn't want to move through the GI tract quite so well... and then it gets stuck, particularly if this has been going on for several days... and more dried out ingesta builds up pretty rapidly behind it. i.e. you end up with a pretty significant impaction!

So, knowing this happens as a part of your horse's instinctual behaviors, it's great practice to encourage drinking or add it to your horse's diet when you know the weather is going to turn cold.

>Actively and deliberately check your horse's water sources! Every day! Clear the ice, make sure there's water and not a leak in the tank, make sure they appear to be drinking.

>Warm water brought from the house especially if you stall at night.

>Livestock water heaters are great, I use them outside, but make *sure* they are in good working order: I did have a colic once or twice that originated from heaters shorting out and actually causing the horses not to drink! Heaters are not an excuse not to check your horse's water sources.

>You can supplement plain table salt either on your horse's grain as a top dressing or you can mix it with a touch of water and syringe feed it (but please, none in the water itself!). Sodium Chloride (NaCl) drives the thirst reflex in all mammals. Electrolyte supplements do typically have a lot of NaCl in them as well, but you're paying for a lot of extra stuff in there too when it's the actual NaCl part that is the important thing. (And again, I know the directions usually say put in the drinking water, but please don't do that! This can actually backfire on you and cause your horse to drink less!)

>You can feed soaked feeds that have water in them - your pelleted concentrates, like strategy or equine senior are particularly useful for this - soaked alfalfa pellets/cubes, or even just soak your hay for about 20 minutes before feeding if he's really stubborn and the other two measures fail.

Sarah L Rhoades, DVM

My hubby and I taking a moment to snap a selfie at his old highschool.
Have to be tough to be a vet's spouse!


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