Gas Colic: Common, But Preventable

Gas colic is one of the most common, yet least-serious, forms of colic in horses. While this colic can often be dismissed as “just gas,” it’s important for equine owners and caretakers to stay vigilant about gas colic and treat it appropriately and quickly, before it spirals into a more-serious colic.

If horses are being fed properly, gas colic shouldn’t happen–so what can be done to prevent it and why does it happen at all? The fibrous portion of plants the horse eats are broken down by microbes in the hindgut; volatile fatty acids and gas are produced in the process. If the gas does not adequately pass through the large colon, it can build up and cause gas colic, causing the horse pain.

Gas colic can be caused by:

  • Inadequate forage consumption
  • Ulcers
  • Stall confinement
  • Inadequate exercise
  • Stress
  • Dehydration
  • Intestinal inflammation
  • Changing feed or forage sources too quickly

Two management practices contribute to gas colic:

  1. Feeding hay at only specific times instead of allowing horses access to hay or pasture 24/7.
    Horses that are fed forage or turned out at only specific intervals release hormones that that can create muscle spasms in the digestive tract. Additionally, stomach acid builds up, which can cause ulcers, which interfere with digestion. Both of these issues will cause a horse to gorge himself and not chew as well as he should, so undigested feed will reach the microbes, which results in excess gas production. If constant turnout is not an option, consider using a slow feeder in the horse’s stall.
  2. Only allowing a horse limited turnout.
    Confining horses to a stall or small paddock reduces hindgut motility, which prevents gas from being expelled. Minimal movement also slows down blood circulation in the digestive tract, increasing the chance for gas colic. Stress on horses exacerbates inflammation, which can affect the digestive tract and increase the risk for gas colic. Pasture turnout is the best way to reduce stress (and therefore gas colic), even if it is only a few hours a day.
  3. Rapid transitions in hay or grain.
    Transition feed and forage slowly to reduce stress on his digestive tract and always feed hay before a concentrated grain.

Read more about gas colic at Barrel Horse News.

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