Horse Health: Reduce Colic With a Healthy Gut

by Jill Davies

Colic can be caused by too little fibre in a horse’s diet, dehydration, the accumulation of dirt & sand or the fermentation of grain in the hindgut. These are just a few situations which can or may lead to a serious case of colic - follow this link for more colic facts plus tips on preventing it .

Follow these tips for keeping your horse's gut healthy:

1. Feed plenty of forage:

A healthy equine hind gut is almost completely dependent on feeding enough forage. Bulky forage is needed to keep the hindgut full to prevent it from physically collapsing on itself or twisting up in a severe case of colic. Healthy bacterial populations are dependent on having lots of fibre available for fermentation. As a rule feed 1.5% of bodyweight in forage. Low sugar hay (10-12%) would be preferable.

If your horse doesn’t have EMS (easy keeper) then as a rule you can aim to feed 2% BWt. in forage per day. For example 500kg horse would be fed 10kg of hay (dry matter basis).

The more forage you can feed the better, so unless you have a good reason for limiting your horse's forage intake, feed a completely forage diet and only use grains when absolutely necessary. 

    2. Feed cooked grains to prevent grains being fermented in the hindgut:

    if you feed grains always use a cooked grain, i.e. steam flaked, micronized, extruded or boiled. The exception to this rule is oats. Oats may be fed uncooked.

      3. Feed small meals:

      when feeding grains, never exceed 2kg per hard feed/grains in any one meal/hard feed. Feeding grains in larger meals will make the feed travel quickly through the small intestine and will push undigested grains into the hindgut where they will be fermented.

      Do not exceed 8L in capacity of any hard feeds including chaff in any one meal/hard feed. 

        4. Make sure your horse is drinking enough water:

        water intake is crucial for maintaining a healthy hindgut. Dehydration will result in the hindgut contents drying out too much and can lead to problems like impaction colic.

        If you suspect your horse is not drinking enough water, try adding honey, other flavourings your horse might like to the water. Make sure horses feel safe around their watering point and that they always have access to water and a raw salt lick.

          5. Remove sand and dirt from the hindgut regularly:

          if your horse is grazing in dry/drought conditions or is housed in a paddock or sand yard you should feed psyllium husk on a regular basis to remove sand and dirt from the hindgut to prevent it accumulating to the point where it will cause problems.

          Feeding 50 -100g of psyllium husk per 100 kg bodyweight for 4 days in every one month will help to remove any sand or dirt that may have accumulated in the hindgut. You will need to use “an oil” over the psyllium husk to reduce the glug (super glue) effect. 

            6. Make all dietary changes slowly:

            sudden changes in feed can upset the balance of bacteria in the hindgut or can lead to diarrhoea. Making dietary changes slowly will help to reduce or eliminate any negative impact of a new diet. A good rule of thumb is:
            • a period of 7 to 14 days for moderate i.e. if you were changing from a Ryegrass hay to a blend of rye & rye & clover hay
            • a period of 14-21 days for more extreme dietary changes such as when including grains
            • prepare to make the change over a longer period depending on how well the horse adapts to the new diet

               If you want some advice for your own horse, please contact me by commenting on this article or via my Feed Your Steed Facebook page. Also don't forget to show your support by signing up to the Horseright mailing list and liking & following Horseright on Facebook.   

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              Horseright - Jill Davies FeedYourSteed Bio PicJill Davies is a qualified Equine Nutritionist. She runs her own business “Feed Your Steed – Equine Diets Based on Science.” Equine Nutrition is predominately a biological science, & as such, influences the entire horse’s body & cognizance. When helping horse-owners, Jill takes exceptional care to achieve a thorough understanding of all the aspects of a horse’s unique lifestyle, whether it is a competition horse or a retiree. This holistic approach permits Jill to analyse each horse’s specific & individual situation. 

              Horse’s, like people, are individuals & should be fed as such. What applies for a particular horse, may not work for another. This is where comprehensive nutritional advice from a qualified equine nutrition professional is advantageous. The advice you receive should be designed for your horse & no one else’s. 
              Jill offers: Qualified Independent Equine Nutritional Advice, Design of Equine Diets & Bespoke Minerals Mixes  

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