Confessions of a Horse Nutritionist #3: Colic
OK, this is a good one… Poet was getting colic regularly last spring.
And I was the cause… yikes!
You’d think I would learn, but nope, took me a little while to figure this one out!
What was going on? Here is the story…
I came home from somewhere one day last spring and noticed Poet wasn’t himself… he was laying down, half rolling, standing up… you know that thing horses do that sends us COLD as horse owners. He had colic!
I called my vet, he was out of town, but as I walked Poet around in the roundyard we discussed symptoms. As we chatted Poet ate some grass and did a poo, but was still uncomfortable.
I had to leave to go and pick the kids up from school. When I got back, he seemed normal. I watched him like a hawk but he was back to normal Poet. Excellent I thought, dodged that bullet.
Fast forward (and I forget now the exact time frames, but let’s say… a week) and, colic, again! Same thing, uncomfortable laying down half rolling repeatedly. So I called Doug, he came to check him out! Seriously noisy guts! Gas colic, or as I have heard some vets call it, the dreaded trapped fart!
The colic resolved again on its own… but this time, with the revelation it was likely gassy colic, I started to figure out the problem!
Our pasture in spring was almost all ryegrass and self-sown wild oats, both grasses that can accumulate high levels of fructan. And fructan ferments fast in the hindgut creating gas that was getting trapped in Poet’s gut.
OK, I thought, I can manage that!
BUT… there were days that for whatever reason I would give the horses a ‘little bit more’ pasture on their grazing strip than normal. For the most part I didn’t really think much of it, it would be a bit colder or I’d feel like they needed more (it’s that whole guilt thing kicking in!) and so they would get a bit more pasture which meant more of these high fructan grasses.
And twice on the days I gave them more he colicked again! DUH! Finally got it!! Too much high fructan pasture was causing excessive gas production and Poet just couldn’t get rid of the gas!
From then on I was very strict with the amount of pasture they got (which yes! I should have been in the first place… lesson learnt!) and we didn’t get any more colic and haven’t had any episodes (touch-wood) since!
It was a good lesson in how seasonal conditions can affect horse health. And in how diets need to be adjusted accordingly to manage these seasonal issues.
This spring I am being very mindful of how much spring grass he gets. My new place doesn’t have the same type of pastures. There is still ryegrass, but virtually no oats, so the risk is potentially lower.
Still… I am not taking that chance so they are getting less access to the pasture to manage the risk of colic (and laminitis!).
Because I still need to keep forage intake up, I use low sugar hay (in my case Rhodesgrass) to safely fill in the forage gap in their diet along with their usual lucerne/alfalfa each day. And all is well so far.
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