Colic Prevention for Horses on Stall Rest
Q: My young Appendix of 26 years just managed to get a severe ligament/tendon injury. We are going to have the stem cell procedure done, but he will still be on stall rest for 4 to 6 months. What do you recommend for colic prevention while he is stuck inside? - LF, New Jersey
A: Dear LF,
Unfortunately, a change in activity or exercise level as well as lack of turnout are two proven risk factors for colic that appear on this list that we compiled from two recent papers on colic*:
• Changes in hay
• Poor quality hay
• Changes in grain
• Large amounts of grain
• Lack of access to water
• Change in activity or exercise level
• Lack of turnout
• Poor parasite control
• Excessive use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
• History of previous colic episode or colic surgery
Your horse’s situation—suddenly going on stall rest due to an injury—is not uncommon but is also not ideal when it comes to his digestive health. As you suspect, reports suggest there is an increased risk of impaction in horses that have acute decreases in activity such as curtailing regular exercise or changing from turnout to strict stall confinement due to an injury (or surgery). Other studies have shown that increased numbers of hours spent in a stall has been associated with increased risk of colic.
Now that I’ve confirmed your worst fears, what can you do about it? Since changes in hay and grain-as well as poor quality hay and large amounts of grain-are also proven risk factors for colic, do your best to ensure that his diet is based on high-quality forage that stays the same day after day. Knowing that many barns are forced to use a variety of different types of hay (especially after last season’s drought) it may be a good idea to get daily digestive support going right away. If possible, any hay changes should be made gradually over the course of 7-10 days and I recommend adding a digestive supplement to help your horse transition to a new type of hay. Supplementing with ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics and yeast that stabilize the hindgut may ease the stress of fluctuations from feed transitions as well from abrupt confinement. If your horse is eligible, I would also encourage you to enroll him in ColiCare, our new colic surgery reimbursement program.
Finally, ask your veterinarian if short hand-walks with grazing are possible. Even getting out of the stall as little as 10 minutes a few times a day could help not only his digestive tract stay regular but also other systems like his joints and hooves. Good luck rehabbing your horse!
*Cohen ND, Factors predisposing to colic, 8th Congress on Equine Medicine and Surgery, 2003 White NA, Equine Colic II: Causes and risks for colic, 52nd Annual Convention of AAEP, 2006.
Dr. Lydia Gray is the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine where she networks with veterinarians; provides print and electronic media content, and guides food, supplement and pharmaceutical selections. Dr. Gray has earned a Bachelor of Science in agriculture, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), and a Master of Arts focusing on interpersonal and organizational communication. After “retiring” from private practice, she put her experience and education to work as the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s first-ever Director of Owner Education. She continues to provide health and nutrition information to horse owners through her position at SmartPak, through publication in more than a dozen general and trade publications, and through presentations around the country.