Equine Colic: Symptoms & Prevention

Equine Colic

Do you notice a change in your horse when the weather turns? It’s fantastic that Spring has arrived after months of a true Winter, but there can be health issues for the horse associated with weather changes. The weather can play a part in the cause of equine colic. It’s not down to the weather itself of course, but a horse’s diet will change as a result of the weather and this change in nutrition can cause issues.

Equine Colic

What is Colic

Equine colic is abdominal pain in horses caused by the digestive system. As the horse’s diet has evolved the digestive system is still trying to cope with it. Imagine going from a lush leafy green diet to then having to adapt to hay, grains and lawn grass. As the horse is unable to be sick to release any unwanted gasses this can cause extreme abdominal pain. There are different varieties of colic, some mild and some much more serious. If you think your horse is suffering from colic then you must seek veterinary help as soon as possible.

Signs of Colic

  • A change in mood, anxiety or depression
  • Pawing at the ground
  • Rolling or lying down
  • Sweating
  • Elevated heart rate and breathing
  • Attempting to urinate
  • Inability to defecate

Colic Causes with the Weather

Less Food

A sharp decline in temperature or rising heat may leave the horse with less of an appetite than usual. They may just pick at their hay, which means there is less fibre for the digestive system to function healthily.

A general guide is that long-stem forage should be fed 1.5% – 2% of body weight per day and should not fall below 1%.

Increase high quality forage in Winter to help keep the horse warm and also increase the fibre intake for a healthy digestive tract.

Concentrated Feed


We can be at fault of increasing the grain intake in Winter – our bad! Grain can have a negative impact on the GI tract with it being sugary simple carbohydrates. Grain does not keep the horse warm either, whereas hay and high fibre forage do. As we have previously mentioned, increase high forage feed in Winter and steer clear of too much grain.

With the weather brightening, lush Spring grass and sandy patches of grass can both bring on colic causing havoc with the digestive system and also the metabolism. Too much Spring grass too fast could put a strain on the horse’s body and lead to a potentially dangerous occurrence of gassy colic.  Lush grass is extremely high in cellulose and is very difficult to breakdown.

If you are turning your horse out into a new, lush field, then gradually build the time they are outside. Start with an hour or so and build that up over the week so the horse has time to get used to the new grass. This will help the body get used to the change in diet and minimise any negative effects on the digestive system.


With reduced temperatures you may find your horse will drink less. This could be down to the reduced water temperature with it being simply too cold. Or the water supply could freeze over without warning.

Another factor that plays a part in dehydration in cooler climates is that there is no fresh grass. Fresh grass is made up of around 80% water while hay is around 15%.

A simple way to tell if your horse is dehydrated is their eyes and gums should be shiny, if they aren’t then this is an indication they are probably dehydrated.

Always make sure your horse has fresh drinking water.Horse Drinking Water

Moving Less

In colder climates, which we seem to be experiencing a lot lately, the horse will spend more time in the stable which means they are moving much less than if they were outdoors. In the same respect, if the horse is too hot in Summer, they will be less inclined to move around.

Infrequent exercise is not satisfactory for the digestive tract as the horse must move regularly for healthy gut function.

If there is bad weather always try and turn out your horse in the paddock on a regular basis to ensure they are getting enough exercise. Regular movement will kick start the digestive system.


You must always be on the ball with checking your horse’s health. The earlier something like colic is recognised, the quicker the horse can be treated. This will minimalise the discomfort your horse is experiencing. A good diet, regular exercise and hydration all plat a part in a healthy digestive system which will reduce the chances of colic.

For supreme comfort while in the stable, take a look at the Mayo Mattress. While your horse will be out more in warmer weather, make sure they are supremely comfortable when they are in the stable. Guaranteed the best comfort possible with the Mayo Mattress.