A horse's digestive tract contains two-thirds of his immune system, making it critical to short- and long-term health. A change in the weather can add stress to the poorly designed system, which may not only prohibit optimal operation, but open the door to illness as well.
It’s no secret that horses have a finicky digestive system. By design, they should move and graze for up to 20 hours a day. This natural behavior keeps the hindgut full, which leads to a properly functioning digestive tract. Most horse owners aren’t able to provide this optimum environment and alter the horse’s patterns to fit into their lifestyles. At times, that means stalling horses or keeping them in small paddocks, while feeding them large amounts of processed feed. Whether we realize it or not, altering the natural behavior puts stress on the horse’s body.
When temperatures swing 30+ degrees over the course of a 24-hour period, many horse owners feel the need to give their horses extra grain in an effort to prevent the horse from losing weight. The weather change is enough to stress the digestive tract of a horse; when even more processed feed is added to the mix, it’s a recipe for disaster.
Feeding heavy grain meals causes large fluid shifts, acid-base shifts, and changes in the bacteria in a horse’s digestive tract. When the horse is fed a large amount grain and very little long stem fiber, such as hay, the incidence of colic is higher. If you’re concerned about keeping weight on your horse, consider making an extra barn trip around bedtime to throw hay one last time. Or, use a slow feeder to spread the hay eating over a longer period.
PROVIDE CLEAN, ACCESSIBLE WATER
The risk of colic increases with dehydration. Make sure your equine gets plenty to drink as the weather cools. You might even consider providing salt or mixing a small amount of salt in their feed to promote drinking.
KEEP THE GUT HEALTHY
Incorporating probiotics into your horse’s regimen, especially after a round of antibiotics or a bout with colic, will help ensure the proper balance of bacteria in his intestines. Horses do not have enzymes that break down their food and depend on naturally occurring bacteria to do the job. Keeping the bacteria at proper levels will ensure proper digestion.
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES
Keep a first aid kit of homeopathic remedies on-hand. I recommend a 30C potency, with six to eight tablets per dose. Simply mix with water and administer via syringe in a colic situation, or if the horse is eating, you can give it with a tiny handful of feed or an apple slice. A few suggested remedies are:
Aconite is usually best for colic with a sudden onset, especially if there is cold or windy weather blowing in.
Colocynthis is a remedy more for a gassy colic, where you can hear loud gut sounds, often without a stethoscope. Your horse may pass gas, or it may be trapped and can be quite painful. One dose every 15 minutes for an hour can be given.
Nux Vomica is the classic remedy to use in a colic situation for many different types of colic, from overeating grain or grass to an impaction. It is powerful, but will not cover up serious signs that your veterinarian may need to see. Dose every 15 minutes for an hour. If there are no results, the remedy is not correct or the case may be more serious than it seems.
Rescue Remedy will keep your horse calm until the vet arrives. Just 10-12 drops of this remedy squirted directly in the mouth, or diluted and dosed with a syringe and a small amount of water,
Joyce C. Harman, DVM, MRCVS, operates Harmany Equine Clinic, Ltd. in Washington, VA, 540-675-1855. Acupuncture, chiropractic, homeopathy, herbs, nutrition and saddle fitting make up most of the practice. www.harmanyequine.com.