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Where #SeriousHorsePeople come to better understand digestive health in horses and its impact and management.

Monday Myth #35: It’s Safe to Feed a Horse Following Colic After it has Passed Manure

Nursing a horse through an episode of colic is a harrowing experience that often seems to happen in the middle of the night. Once a horse has been deemed out of danger, it’s tempting to try to “get things back to normal” by giving your horse hay and water and heading home for breakfast and a cup of coffee. A common rule of thumb after colic is to wait until the horse has successfully passed manure, at which point everyone breathes a sigh of relief. But while passing manure does signify gut motility, it’s a myth that passing manure means your horse is “cured” and ready to resume normal eating patterns.

That’s because colic is a loosely defined term that has many different meanings. How quickly your horse can return to a normal feed schedule depends on what type of colic he experienced or what the underlying cause is. More severe cases generally require a longer period of time off feed. Remembering that colic is simply the definition of any type of abdominal pain, a simple case of colic will have the fastest recovery time. High-quality hay can be introduced in small amounts every four to six hours during the first 12 to 24-hour period.

Resuming Feeding After More-Severe Types of Colic

Any colic that required surgery merits special consideration. Use these general guidelines.

  • Colic affecting the small intestine, such as duodenitis-proximimal jejunitis (DPJ), small intestinal strangulation or ileal impaction: only resume feeding after a vet has confirmed a lack of net gastric reflux and that the small intestine is working properly. Start by feeding only 25 percent of the daily ration, given every 2-4 hours. Build the horse up to 75 percent of his total feed ration over a two-day period.
  • Colic affecting the large colon, such as impaction colic, sand colic or colic caused by enteroliths (intestinal stones): resume feeding small amounts of good-quality forage four to six times daily, gradually increasing up to normal rations over a 1-2 day period. Be sure feed is free of sand or dirt.
  • Colic caused by cecal impactions: as with other types of colic, feed should be introduced slowly and gradually, although vets often recommend low-residue feeds, such as alfalfa pellets.

The General Rules of Feeding Post-Colic

Since there are many types of colic and the treatment varies, it’s wise to remember the golden rule: Introduce food back into the horse’s diet slowly and in limited amounts, and be sure it is top-quality. Hydration is also key to recovery (and also in helping avoid colic in the first place), so be sure your horse has access to plenty of fresh, clean water.

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While these guidelines might help you know what questions to ask your vet if your horse ever colics, they should not be taken in place of a veterinarian’s recommendation, as each horse — and each case of colic — is different. However, it is clear that a horse that passes manure after an episode of colic is not automatically ready to go straight back to his regular feeding schedule, making this assumption a myth.

Instead, focus on the ways you can help avoid colic, such as to feed plenty of high-quality forage on a schedule that mimics horses’ natural process of digestion. Provide plenty of fresh, clean water and set up a feeding and management system that promotes a healthy digestive system. You may also supplement to support digestive health. While most types of colic are not entirely preventable, taking steps to reduce risks is the first step toward a healthy horse.

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