What Actually Causes Colic?

As the weather shifts into fall, with its unpredictable changes, horse owners begin worrying about the possibility that their horses may colic. Why? Because it seems that abrupt weather changes and colic often go hand-in-hand.

But does a change in weather actually increase your horse’s chances of colic?

Yes … and no! As always, when it comes to holistic horse health care, the answers are so often dependent on multiple factors. So let’s take a look at what actually increases a horse’s chance of colic.

Factors That Increase Chances of Colic
According to “Dietary and Other Management Factors Associated with Equine Colic,” a paper given at an American Association of Equine Practitioner’s Meeting, changes in weather do indeed increase a horse’s chance of colic.

More precisely, weather changes within a 3-day period increase a horse’s chances of colic by 320%. That’s no small number!

But there are other factors that are even more likely to cause a horse to colic. According to data from the same study these factors also increase a horse’s chances of colic by certain percentages:

Recent change in hay – 890%
Recent change in diet – 500%
History of previous abdominal surgery in colic – 460%
History of previous colic – 320%
Recent change in stabling – 230%

The complete list is too long to include here, but you get the picture. When I look at this list, I see factors that put a horse under stress, and stress tends to equal colic.

Why Stress Equals Colic
When a horse is under stress, the bacterial content in her gut tends to shift, with decreasing numbers of beneficial bacteria and increasing numbers of harmful or toxic bacteria. Without additional probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and digestive support, the balance of beneficial bacteria can decrease to such an extent that the horse’s digestion ceases to function properly, often resulting in colic. That is why I recommend that all horses be kept on a daily regimen that includes probiotics (such as acidophilus and bifidus), and that additional digestive support be given during times of stress.

Another explanation often given for increased horse colic during abrupt weather changes is the shift in barometric pressure. While this is a distinct possibility, I see sensitivity to barometric changes as simply another factor that might prove stressful to a horse and her digestion.

How to Support Your Horse’s Gut
On a daily basis, I suggest horse owners feed the Simplexity Essentials, a convenient daily packet that contains two forms of blue-green algae, enzymes, and the probiotics acidophilus and bifidus. In times of stress, you can feed double or triple the regular dose of the Essentials.

You can also add pre-biotics, which feeds the beneficial bacteria in your horse’s gut, to your horse’s diet. Pre-biotics keep the beneficial bacteria in your horse’s gut healthy. Examples of products containing prebiotics include Pro-Bi and KLPP. Other products that support healthy gut bacteria include aloe vera, yucca, and kelp.

To learn more about keeping your horse’s gut healthy, check out this article.

For one-stop shopping for digestive health products for your horse, click here.

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