Does Feeding Largely Influence Horse’s Colic? Dietary Management Of Horse Colic 2021


What you feed your horse, when you feed your horse and how you feed your horse can lead to or prevent a colic. 

Horse Feeding Schedule

Horses are built to graze. All day, every day. Of course, that’s not always possible. When your horse is not on pasture, it’s important to feed him on a regular and consistent schedule. 

Your horse’s digestive tract is over 100 feet long. As food makes its long and complex journey through your horse’s interior, it faces a number of challenges. For the best and most efficient digestion, offer your horse free-choice hay when she’s not on pasture. If the free choice is not an option, be sure to provide regular amounts of high-quality roughage every 4 to 6 hours. 

Any changes to your horse’s feeding schedule should be made gradually over a 1 to 2 week period.

Hay Testing

Horse hay testing is a good idea. It’s the only way to be sure of its actual nutrient content. And knowing the nutrient content is important so you can be sure your horse is eating an adequate diet.

The better the hay, the less grain you’ll need…which can mean significant savings! Learn how to spot quality hay here.

You’ll need a hay corer to take samples. If you don’t have one, contact your county or state agricultural extension and borrow one. Take samples from as many bales as possible. They may offer recommendations on a testing lab in your area.

We recommend Equi-Analytical Labs for tests. They will provide instructions on taking, packing, and shipping your samples. Common tests include the NSC (non-structural carbohydrate) or ‘sugar and starch’ test to determine the hay’s potential to increase the risk of metabolic disorders and the Rider Test of basic nutrients.

Hay Warning: Be sure you are not purchasing or using hay from a source that spreads uncomposted horse manure on their fields. Strongyle (bloodworm) larvae can survive up to eight months in hay harvested from fields fertilized with infected horse manure.

Quality Horse Hay

High-quality horse hay is an important source of nutrients in your horse’s diet. Your horse will eat 2 to 2.5% of its body weight a day and for optimum health, nutritionists recommend that at least half of this should be roughage such as hay. For a 1000-pound horse, that means at least 10 pounds of roughage each day.

Here are some tips on choosing the best hay for your horse:

Buy clean hay. Dust and pollen can cause inflame the respiratory tract. Moldy hay contains mycotoxins, compounds that may cause colic. 

When selecting hay bales, ask if you can open and look inside one or two bales. Yes, this is kind of pushy, but it’s important. Once they’re open, examine the hay for signs of insect infestation or disease. Don’t worry if the outside of the bales are discolored, but the bales should be free from dirt, trash and debris. 

If you’re buying alfalfa hay, be especially careful to look for signs of blister beetles. Blister beetles contain a poison, cantharidin, that is as toxic as cyanide or strychnine. Horses are especially sensitive to cantharidin, and even a small amount can cause colic.

The hay should smell fresh, not fermented.

Its texture should be fine and the stems should be as green, soft and leafy as possible. 

If bales seem very heavy or warm, reject them. Overly heavy bales may be water saturated and that could cause mold or dangerous hay fires.

Use your hay within one year of harvest. Store it in dry, sheltered area out of rain, snow or sun.

If you’re buying hay in quantity, consider having it tested by a certified forage laboratory to determine its actual nutrient content.

Your horse’s nutritional needs are affected by age, activity, and overall health. Consult your veterinarian or a qualified equine nutritionist when formulating your horse’s ratio. Together, you put together a balanced diet that is safe, nutritious, and cost-effective. 

Blister Beetles

If you buy alfalfa hay, be aware of blister beetles. Small but sinister, blister beetles contain cantharidin, a deadly horse toxin. In small amounts, blister beetles can cause colic. In large amounts, they can be fatal. Cantharidin is very stable and persistent—dried beetle bodies remain toxic, as does the hay after the beetle bodies have been removed.

Blister beetles are most common in dry western states but can be found all over the US. They are usually 1/2 to 1 inch long. Their narrow, cylindrical bodies can be black, gray, brown, or orange-striped. 

To reduce your horse’s risk, buy first-cutting or late fall cutting alfalfa hay and buy your hay from reliable growers. 

Check your hay carefully for blister beetle bodies and discard any hay that is suspicious.

Cantharidin can cause severe skin inflammation and blisters in humans and livestock. When eaten, blister beetle toxin is absorbed through the intestine and causes symptoms such as colic, elevated body temperature, increased heart, and respiratory rates, sweating, dehydration, and diarrhea.

If you suspect blister beetle poisoning, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Horse Probiotics

Horse probiotics add natural and beneficial bacteria to your horse’s intestines and may help reduce the frequency of colic. Used properly, probiotics will restore the digestive bacteria killed off by worming, promote digestive health, combat the unwanted side effects of antibiotics and build a strong immune system.

Given by mouth or added to feed, these friendly bacteria will go forth and multiply in your horse’s gut. Here they will assist with digestion and fight off infective bacteria. 

Look for a wide variety of cultures in the supplement you chose. The more the better! The label should indicate that the bacteria are “live”. Some to look for are:

  • lactobacillus acidophilus
  • streptococcus faecium
  • aspergillus oryzae
  • bacillus subtilis
  • streptomyces
  • sacchromyces cerevisiae

Probiotics are often sold in paste form. They’re sold in a syringe that can be squirted right into your horse’s mouth or squeezed onto feed. Be sure to check the expiration date, and keep these products refrigerated. Dehydrated probiotics are also available and they’re easy to scoop right into the feed.

Whichever form you chose, it will benefit your horse. A happy gut is a healthy gut!

Feeding Your Horse

If your horse is prone to colic, look closely at your feeding methods. 

Horses are built to move and graze freely. Pasture is best, but not always possible. If you are feeding your horse supplemental hay and grain, be sure to maintain a regular, consistent schedule. 

Speak to your veterinarian about the best feeding schedule for your horse. Factors to consider include your horse’s age, weight, activity level and metabolic sensitivities. 

Always make changes in your horse’s diet slowly—over a period of 1 to 2 weeks. This allows your horse’s digestive system to process and acclimate to the change, reducing the chance of colic.

Other Horse Feeding Tips:

Choose the best quality hay you can find.

The healthiest position for a horse to feed is in the grazing position. Consider building a simple horse stall corner feeder to help preserve hay.

An inconsistent feeding schedule can cause cribbing which can, in turn, cause colic. There are several ways to reduce or prevent cribbing, including a cribbing collar.

Feeding Schedule To Reduce EGUS

Your horse is built to graze. To break down the roughage it has evolved to consume, your horse’s stomach produces up to 16 gallons of acid every day. If your horse is not grazing all day, filling his belly with high-quality roughage, there is nothing in his stomach to buffer all that acid.

Grazing on high-quality roughage also requires a lot of chewing. Chewing produces saliva, a surprisingly potent acid buffer. Concentrates, on the other hand, do not provide the all-day protection of grazing or stimulate as much acid-buffering saliva production.

Provide the maximum amount of turnout possible. Pasture is the best colic preventative. If your horse is confined to her stall, provide free choice, high-quality hay. Feed mid-maturity alfalfa hay or a grass/alfalfa mix for the biggest buffering bang for your buck. If you do feed grains, use no more than 1/2 pound per 100 pounds of body weight and wait at least 6 hours between grain feedings. 

Horse Lovers Are Also Reading...

➡️ Trending

➡️ Beginner Guide

➡️ Horse Books

➡️ Horse Health Care

➡️ Horse Hoof Care

➡️ Training & Riding Horse

➡️ Horse Gifts & Products

Recent Posts