Reduce the risk of colic:

If the perfect horse is one that stays healthy, then nutrition and management have both enabling and supporting roles to play – the most important being to maintain health and reduce disease such as colic.
Though defined as abdominal pain, colic in horses has increasingly been taken to represent the large group of intestinal diseases which cause abdominal pain – and at least six different types of colic have been recognized, including impaction, spasmodic and sand colic. There are several contributing factors including inadequate water intake; vices such as crib-biting and wind-sucking; bolting (gobbling) down food; myco-toxins in feed; and diet.
In some of these conditions, diet is not a direct cause. However, it is frequently incriminated as the major causative factor of colic. The exact relationship between colic and diet can be difficult to determine, because of the variety of feeds and feeding practices used as well as differences in study populations. In addition, it is often difficult to separate the effects of a diet and feeding schedule from other management practices, which often depend on the horse’s breed and use.

Colic can occur for various reasons, even in horses kept in optimal conditions. Management practices may increase the risk in certain animals. In a study conducted in the USA, colic incidence was low in horses at grass, receiving no concentrates. Incidences of colic increased as the amount of concentrate increased – those receiving more than 5 kg of grain were up to six times more likely to develop colic than those receiving no concentrates (colic risk became significant when fed over 2,5 kg grain per day).
In this study (not in all studies) processed feed and pellets were associated with more problems and increased risk. Dividing large meals into several small meals a day did not reduce the colic risk; feeding twice daily increased the risk relative to feeding once or three or more times (but this may be related to the size of each meal).

Diet changes:
In another matched case control study, neither the type nor amount of concentrate fed was associated with the colic risk, although it was concluded that horses at pasture may have decreased risk of colic, as horses need to chew 12-15 hours per day. Here, changes in diet and type of hay (including hay from a different source or a cutting of the same type) were key risk factors. Feeding hay other than coastal Bermuda or alfalfa significantly increased the risk of colic – but this may have reflected hay quality and digestibility rather than hay type. Changing to poorer quality, less digestible hay or feeding wheat-straw or cornstalks may predispose horses to large colon impaction, regardless of the type of hay fed.

A horse fed excess cereal starch or too large a meal or which experiences sudden change in diet (of either volume or composition), may suffer from hindgut acidosis. This can also be caused by excessive intake of grass rich in water-soluble carbohydrates found in larger quantities in spring and autumn. In a UK study, recent change in management was associated with at least 43% of spasmodic or mild undiagnosed colic – the most common change being turnout onto lush pasture in spring. High concentrate, low forage diets have also been implicated in the development of gastric ulcers, possibly resulting in signs of colic.

Quality is key:
Recent work highlights the importance of quality feeds, with certain myco-toxins in feed being associated with colic's in comparatively large numbers – almost 30% of hays fed to horses that developed colic were of low hygienic quality. Current advice for better nutrition and colic prevention, includes:

1. Reduce the amount of starch fed. Studies including work on gastric ulcers advise reducing the intake of starch to - 2g/kg Bwt (body weight) per meal, ideally to <1g/kg Bwt.

2. Even in a grain-adapted horse, the amount of grain should not be increased by more than 0,5 kg per day (for a 500 kg     horse).

3. If a horse requires ever-increasing amounts of feed to maintain condition and energy, with no suspicion of ill-health, consider:
  • Changing to a feed with a higher energy content; and
  • Adding oil – about 30 ml pe
  • Increasing the number of meals (while keeping down meal size);
  • r feed – is beneficial for excitable horses, improves coat condition and aids horses prone to tying up (azoturia). Vitamin E must be supplemented.

4. Add shortly chopped forage to the feed of a horse that bolts his feed, or trickle feed over several small feeds per day.

5. Cook or micronise cereals such as corn and barley to remove pre-caecal digestibility.

6. Store feed and forage appropriately and do not feed if mouldy.

7. Consider reducing the amount of alfalfa (lucerne) fed and providing oat/grass hays, especially in animals prone to             enterolith formation (a hard, stone-like mass which can form in the stomach).

8. Try to avoid very mature hays or straw, especially with horses prone to impaction.

9. Make changes in the amount, rather than type, of feed wherever possible and appropriate.

10. Try to be consistent with routine mealtimes.

11. Avoid rapid changes in the amount or type of feed fed.

12. Small changes can be made in steps over 3-5 days, while major changes may require a 2-3 week adaptation period.

13. When some horses have a particular type of colic, regular consistent access to pastures may be advantageous. For       some conditions, however, it may be a risk factor, e.g. in duodenitis-proximal jejunitis and grass sickness.

14. Recent changes in hay or forage may be more harmful than in grain or concentrate, although changing from one type       of forage source to similar forage seems to cause less problems than changing from preserved to fresh forage, or from      a forage-only diet to one with concentrates, but any changes in the diet should be done gradually.

Articles provided by: Lourette Pretorius

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