Most horse owners know horse constipation as impaction colic. Mere mention of the word colic sends shivers up any horse owner's spine, as horses are highly susceptible to the condition. Good, stable management practices can greatly reduce the occurrence of colic, and most impaction colic cases respond well to treatment when discovered early. Once an impaction becomes severe, surgical treatment may be necessary to resolve the blockage.
Give Him a Drink
The best preventative measure for impaction colic is to ensure your horse has plenty of fresh water available at all times. Horses without water for as little as one to two hours have an increased risk of colic, especially those over 6 years old. As a general rule, a 1,000-pound horse performing little to no work requires 10 to 12 gallons of water daily to maintain normal bodily functions. He needs more in hot weather or if he works. Poor hydration reduces the amount of saliva a horse produces to soften and moisten what he eats; dry food moves through the digestive tract more slowly, increasing the risk of impaction.
If your horse doesn't drink enough water on his own, try adding 1 to 2 ounces of salt to his grain each day to stimulate thirst. During the winter, keep your horse's water between 40 and 60 degrees at all times. Many horses drink warm water more willingly in colder weather.
Make Him Work
Exercise plays a significant role in the prevention of colic, and mild activity can ease symptoms of early colic. Continuous confinement increases the chances your horse may colic, so ensure any non-working horses are allowed plenty of time in a large turnout area.
Maintain Dental and Intestinal Health
Horses with irregular or sharp teeth may not chew their food properly. This can cause the food to slow down the digestive process and form a blockage. A vet should examine and float your horse's teeth every six to 12 months. The vet files down barbs and other irregularities on the teeth so the horse can chew comfortably. Floating the teeth helps with some bitting issues when a horse is bridled and at work. You should also have your horse on a vet-devised parasite control program. Parasites in the intestine can compromise blood flow through the intestine, impeding digestion and aiding impactions.
Signs of Impaction Colic
Depending upon the severity of the impaction, clinical signs can range from mild to severe. You may notice your horse exhibiting depression, a decreased appetite or decreased or dry manure. He may nip at his sides with his teeth, paw the ground or even try to lay down and roll. Try to keep your horse on his feet and walking, which helps ease pain and may encourage a minor impaction to pass. Rolling can also cause further injury to your horse, including the risk of him twisting his intestine. If you notice any signs of colic in your horse, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Medical Treatment for Colic
If you are able, record your horse's temperature, heart rate and respiration rate -- and note any gut sounds -- for your vet. Remove all of your horse's food, as more material in his digestive tract will complicate impaction. Walking or trotting your horse may relieve gas colic. Your veterinarian may employ the use of analgesics to control your horse's pain or may try to soften the impaction with mineral oil administered via a tube inserted into the horse's stomach through the nose and trachea. If the horse is dehydrated, additional fluids may need to be administered. Luckily, roughly 75 percent of impaction colic cases resolve successfully with treatment. In the most severe cases, abdominal surgery may be necessary.