Dr. Liza hopes you find the following information about Horse Healthcare useful. Please note: the information provided by drliza.co.nz is intended to educate and offer alternatives to help improve and manage your animal’s long term health. Any use of the guidelines contained herein is entirely at the user’s own discretion and risk. While every effort has been made to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, drliza.co.nz and its staff assume no responsibility for the improper application of this information. Please consult directly with your own veterinarian before making changes to your animal’s diet or nutrition.
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Colic is a general term for abdominal pain and while many cases are mild and inconsequential, others can be life threatening. It’s very important to take all cases seriously and seek veterinary advice at an early stage.
Horses usually display abdominal discomfort by lying down more than usual, standing with a stretched out posture, repeatedly getting up and down, standing as if to urinate, rolling, turning their head to their flank, pawing the ground or kicking at their abdomen. Generally, the more the severe their pain, the more violently they behave and the more urgent the need for veterinary intervention. Another useful sign to monitor is the colour of their gums, white, purple or bright red gums are an indication that there is something severely wrong.
The source of pain can be from a number of areas such as the kidneys, muscles, liver and reproductive organs. Most commonly, however, colic is attributable to pain originating in the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT) or digestive system.
There are several types of colic which lead to abdominal discomfort. These include distension colic which is due to excess gas build up, obstruction colic which might be caused by the impaction of food or the presence of enteroliths (very hard rock like structures that form in the GIT over time) and spasmodic colic where spasms cause the intestines to contract painfully. Strangulations which occur when the gut twists on itself and inflammatory disorders like enteritis and colitis are also responsible for colic.
Vets will do a thorough clinical examination to evaluate the seriousness of the horse’s condition. This might include placing a tube into the horse’s nose and down to the stomach to allow for the release of pressure accumulated in the stomach.
Most colics respond to conservative medical treatment where we treat with pain relief and provide fluids via the tube to the stomach or in the form of a drip. We might also treat with drugs which enhance passage of gut content, have a laxative effect or help to relieve spasms in the GIT. There are also several alternative therapies which help to play a role in calming the horse and re-establishing normal gut function in some cases.
Those cases that don’t respond are best referred to specialist facilities for intensive care and sometimes surgery.
Colic is much better prevented rather than cured. Regular healthcare such as dental check ups and intestinal parasite management are especially important to help prevent colic but of utmost priority is keeping risk factors to a minimum. Risk factors include sudden changes of diet, activity, environmental and management factors like stabling and transport.
Maintain a regular feeding schedule with good quality concentrates and allow access to forage on balanced soils for as much of the day as possible. Avoid overgrazing pastures and ensure constant access to clean water.
As far as possible make all changes slowly and monitor horses exposed to high risk situations closely. This will go a long way to keeping your horse colic free.
Horse Cribbing and Wind Sucking
A cribbing horse anchors their upper front teeth onto a stationary object, such as a fence, arches up their neck and facial muscles, retracts their larynx (voice box), and then gulps down air. A wind sucker on the other hand will flex their neck, gulp air and emit a grunting sound without anchoring onto an object.
Horses who crib can wear their teeth excessively, may suffer from colic because of swallowing air and their performance could be impeded by the heavy neck muscles which develop from cribbing. In addition to these health concerns, a considerable amount of damage is caused to stalls and barns.
Cribbing and wind sucking have not been reported in free-ranging wild or semi-wild horses that spend ninety percent of their time grazing.
Our domestic horses, on the other hand, typically spend much less time grazing and their inability to graze naturally can be a significant stress that might contribute to cribbing behaviour. Looking at it from a different angle, cribbing is also thought to be motivated by boredom or attempts to satisfy their natural grazing instinct with substitute behaviour.
Research has shown that this repetitive behaviour may cause the release of endorphins which are opioid like substances which have a “feel good” effect and can become addictive to some horses. It has been found that drugs which block the body’s release of endorphins can stop cribbing but these drugs are relatively short acting.
Drugs, aversion therapies (crib straps, anti-cribbing mixes applied to fences, electric fencing) and surgery to stop the behaviour do not address the root of the problem. As always if we fail to respect natural principles, sooner or later problems will develop to reflect the imbalance.
If your horse is confined to a stall, provide toys that it can roll over to obtain food. Also remove crib-friendly objects from the stall and position stall features to reduce the opportunity for cribbing e.g. Raise the water bucket and feed tub up to chest level and eliminate all edges up to that height.
Ideally allow horses more pasture time, letting them graze (on well balanced soils) and roam, as well as social interaction with other horses and even other species. This in addition to consistent, intelligent handling as well as regular exercise will help tremendously.
Good nutrition is vital to having your horse feeling good within them self. Feed less grain concentrate (use higher-fat rations if necessary) and more roughage (forage supplements). Also ensure that they have optimal amounts of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids in their diet.
Be aware that underlying pain due to ulcers, sore teeth or for other reasons will raise the need for a horse to crib. If you suspect this might be the case, get them to be checked over by your vet and have these problems addressed.
Horses who have been cribbing for years may have the habit so deeply ingrained that it could be difficult to have absolute resolution but by respecting natural principles and addressing all factors that could possibly be contributing to underlying stress, cribbing can be greatly reduced or completely eliminated.