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Colic doesn’t follow a calendar. Virtually any horse can be stricken with gut pain at any time of year. That said, there are certain types of colic that are more likely to occur in winter than at other times of year. A veterinarian called out to see a colicky horse on a frigid day in January is going to expect to find a certain scenario that she wouldn’t for the same type of call in June.
The colics most associated with the cold weather months are impaction- related. When ingested feed stops moving through the horse’s gut efficiently, the material can accumulate and form a blockage. Feed and gas then back up behind the blockage, causing distention of the intestine and associated pain. Impactions are often found in an area called the “pelvic flexure,” a hairpin turn the large colon makes back on itself, but can also occur in other locations.
Thankfully, impactions are typically easy to diagnose---many can be confirmed during rectal palpations---and treatment is often straightforward. A dose of painkillers, possibly a sedative, along with hydration usually gets things moving again. In more severe cases, hospitalization so that intravenous fluids can be administered might be necessary, but even those horses tend to recover quickly. Of course, it’s easier on everyone if colic doesn’t occur in the first place.
In that spirit, I’m going to share the four management tips that will contribute the most to protecting your horse from winter colic or, at the very least, recognizing it early when it’s easier to treat. These aren’t things you haven’t heard before, but it pays to refresh your memory and resolve as we head into winter...
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