Avoiding Colic and Dehydration in Horses and Livestock

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Colic is a term used to describe a gastric upset causing pain in horses. Colic can be severe and end in death if not treated promptly. There are multiple types of colic, some more severe than others. The onset of these severe types of colic is more common in the winter due to cold or frozen water, inclement weather, and a lack of forages. Producers can take specific measures to help prevent the onset of colic. Below are three easy methods to prevent a horse from colic this winter.


One of the five essential nutrients is water. For an animal to properly function, it must consume a large amount of water per day. During winter, the water supply can be limited, or animals may avoid drinking due to temperature. If not consuming enough water, horses are more prone to colic. Below are three ways to help provide and increase a horse’s water consumption.

  • Provide unlimited amounts of clean water daily.
  • Ensure that the water trough will remain unfrozen by installing a water trough heater.
  • Soak your horse’s daily grain in warm water, making a mash.

Forage/ Hay

To properly digest grain, horses must have adequate amounts of quality forage throughout the day. Forage can be in the form of hay or hay pellets, with baled hay being the best option. Limiting hay to one feeding per day may cause gastric upset, leading to colic. Below are three easy methods to ensure that your horse is receiving enough quality forage that will aid in the prevention of colic.

  • Ensure that provided forage is leafy, not stalky, and free of poisonous weeds, mold, and dust.
  • Ensure that forage is of good nutritional quality by sending off analysis.
  • Provide free-choice, unlimited amounts of quality forage.

Shelter/ Protection

As with any animal, proper shelter from the elements is crucial to good health. As for horses, improper shelter or protection from the elements can be a critical factor in their digestive health and wellbeing. Horses that are not protected from the wind and rain are more likely to drop in body temperature, making their bodies function improperly. This can lead to dehydration, lethargy, colic, and even death. Below are three easy methods of shelter or element protection that you can provide for your horse to help avoid sickness, including colic.

  • Provide the horse with a three-sided shelter or barn.
  • Stall the horse in inclement weather (the horse needs to be accustomed to stalling).
  • Blanket the horse with a waterproof, heavy-lined turn-out blanket during inclement weather and below-freezing temperatures.

For additional information, please contact Michelle South, Area Livestock Agent, N.C. Cooperative Extension-Avery County Center at 828.733.8270 or email Michelle_South@ncsu.edu.