The editors at Horse Journal understand that most horse owners want to know what they can do, in their own barns, to help keep their horses healthy. With that and the colder months ahead in mind, they’ve collected some suggestions about impaction in horses, a type of colic, so you can help prevent it in your horse.
Impaction in horses is one of the most common causes of colic. Despite this, there continues to be much misunderstanding about diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. It is especially likely to occur in colder months, when horses normally drink less water.
Impaction colic occurs when fecal matter doesn’t move properly through the horse’s colon and becomes impacted. The first symptom is often a slight case of diarrhea.
Many impaction colics can be avoided entirely by careful management and strict attention to water consumption.
- Every horse’s water intake drops off with rapid weather changes, especially during cold snaps. The drop can sometimes be sharp.
- A change from pasture to hay causes a dramatic drop in water consumption (grass is 80% water)
- Make sure the average-size horse gets at least 1 oz. (two tablespoons) of salt per day, even in winter. Salt triggers the thirst mechanism, causing the horse to seek water. You can put this in his feed (build up gradually, over the course of three days).
- Monitor water intake carefully. An idle 1,100-lb. horse on a hay and grain diet should drink 6 to 8 gallons per day or 10 to 13 gallons per day if on a hay-only diet.
- Giving a warm, salted mash, at one or all meals, is cheap insurance. Beet pulp, hay pellets or cubes, wheat bran, concentrate pellets are all suitable for mashes.
- If you can give your horse warm water in the winter, do so. You can even simply top off the bucket with warm water. If you’re going to incorporate warm water in your program, it’s important to do it consistently, and do it every day.
- Keep ice removed from water tanks, so the horse can drink. Snow isn’t a water substitute.
- Depending on the location, impactions are not always palpable on rectal exam, although that will change if the blockage begins to move through the horse.
- A horse with impaction may continue to pass manure until all manure distal to the impaction has been passed.
- Oil will often travel around an impaction and be passed per rectum long before the impaction has been resolved.
- Tubing with water is more effective than tubing with oil.
- Tubing can cause a temporary worsening of symptoms, caused by reflex contraction in the colon when the stomach is filled.
- The pain from impaction colic can be quite severe, but is easily controlled, for up to 12 hours per injection with flunixin meglumine (Banamine). It often needs to be given more frequently than the recommended once a day but this is preferable to narcotics, which slow the intestines.
- Mucus membrane color remains normal with early impaction colic.
- Pulse is only moderately elevated with impaction colic.
- A combination of daily tubing with water (some vets make a slurry with alfalfa meal and salt) and a daily rectal examination to check progress is effective.
- Water and wet meals should be offered. Grass is ideal.
- Exercise speeds resolution.
- Impactions can take up to a week to resolve but should be closely monitored by your veterinarian.