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Equine Colic

Bursay Boosting Forage

What is Colic?

Colic is a term used to describe abdominal discomfort from any cause. The pain can vary from mild or severe, and may be both constant and intermittent. Signs of colic include pawing at the ground, kicking at the belly, looking or biting at the flanks, rolling, sweating, lack of appetite and general signs of discomfort.

Colic Statistics :

  • 12% of colic cases arise from problems in the stomach.
  • 33% of cases are due to an issue with the small intestine.
  • 55% of cases are due to a malfunction of the hindgut.
  • Colic can be resolved in 90% of cases.

Nutritional risk factors can result from a number of factors, with feeding practises being among the most common causes. Consideration should be given to both the overall feed management, as well as the forage and concentrate portions of the diet.

Nutritional risk factors Physical risk factors
Too much grass Intestinal Twisting
Too much hard feed Intestinal Blockage
Changing feed quickly Gas
Dehydration Digestives Issues : Gastric ulcers / Parasites

The horses digestive system is very complex and for such a large animal, the equine stomach is quite small and can easily be overfilled to the point of discomfort. The only natural way to relieve a full stomach is for ingested material to move into the small intestine where starch digestion takes place. The horse’s stomach will automatically begin to empty when it is 2/3 full and there is only one way for the stomach to empty, as horses can’t be sick!

Plenty of forage


Over everything, forage is the most important part of the horses diet and this is often forgotten or overlooked by horse owners. Forage commonly takes the form of hay, haylage and grass, but the horses forage intake can also be met through other sources such as fibre cubes, alfalfa pellets, grass nuts and short chops such as chaffs. Forage is essential to satisfy both the physical and psychological needs of the horse and is needed to combat issues such as colic.

Forage also helps to aid the passage of food through the digestive system to eliminate gas bubbles, to help maintain a stable hindgut pH and to provide a large proportion of the horses calorie intake. It is important that no horse receives less than 1.5% of their body weight in forage per day so as to avoid digestive issues.

Concentrate feeding

When feeding concentrates that are high in cereals (or starch) it is also important to consider the amount you are feeding. Cereal meals overwhelm the capacity of the small intestine, undigested starch flows into the hindgut. This area of the digestive tract is the area responsible for fibre fermentation, and an influx of carbohydrate plays havoc with normal function. Microbial balance goes awry, gas production rises, and pH levels swing away from normal.

Studies have shown that horses eating 2.5-5kg of cereal per day are 4.8 times more likely to suffer from colic and those eating over 5kg of cereal per day are 6.8 times more likely to get colic compared to horses that are fed cereal free rations. This doesn’t mean that horses shouldn’t be fed cereals, it just highlights the importance of employing suitable feeding practices.

Horse water


Water is something that we often overlook when taking our horses diet into consideration, however it is essential to digestion as water aids in the smooth passage of food throughout the digestive tract.

Horses require a huge amount of water on a daily basis and can drink between 45-55 litres per day. This can vary due to a number of variable such as travel, exercise and weather. Reduced water intake can greatly increase the risk of colic as dehydration is a high risk factor in impaction colic. Monitoring your horses water intake is essential, and extra care should be taken with horses who have access to automatic water buckets or troughs where assessing intake can be difficult. Through both hot or cold seasons, increasing water intake can be an excellent way of making sure your horse is still drinking plenty. The use of soaked feeds such as the Re-Covery Mash can stimulate thirst response and help to support an optimum hydration status.



Rule 1 – Feed plenty of forage. This reduces the risk of colic and other digestive issues, as well as stereotypical behaviour formation which can increase stress and further increase the risk of colic.

Rule 2 – Feed little and often. The horses stomach is very small so cannot handle large volumes of feed.

Rule 3 - Allow time after feeding concentrates before exercise. During exercise, blood is diverted away from the stomach and toward the muscles, slowing the rate of digestion.

Rule 4 – Provide clean fresh water and monitor for any changes in intake.

Rule 5 – Feed each horse as an individual.

Rule 6 – Feed at the same time each day to prevent the disturbance of gut microflora in the hindgut.

Rule 7 – Avoid making sudden changes. The hindgut microbes are very sensitive and take several weeks to adapt to changes in feed – microbes themselves need to change and adapt to be able to digest feed effectively.

Rule 8 – Feed by weight and not volume. Not all scoops hold the same weight of feed and sudden increases in feed can lead to colic


If you would like any further information, please feel free to contact our nutritional team on 01622 718487 or email