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Recent Colic Research UpdateBy Dr. Peter Huntington · November 2, 2011

Colic continues to be a major problem for many horses. It is a particular concern for stabled horses and in certain countries with more risk factors.

Recent research at Nottingham University has identified one reason why stabled horses have a higher risk/incidence of colic. Using ultrasound measurements of intestinal motility, researchers compared horses at pasture with stabled horses that were on a forage-based diet and had one hour of light exercise per day. The stabled horses had consistently reduced intestinal motility, especially in the pelvic flexure of the colon, and it is thought that this may have predisposed them to more impaction colics.

Any horse that is prone to colic should be kept in a paddock or field if possible. Turnout is good for a horse’s mental health and also gut health, as horses in paddocks have a reduced risk of gastric ulcers as well.

A study at the University of Liverpool of horses suffering colic showed that these horses are at a much greater risk of another bout than the general horse population. A retrospective study involved follow-up with 112 horses treated for colic. Of these, 36% of horses had at least one other colic bout in the next year and 27% needed veterinary treatment, with 12% needing surgery. This incidence is at least five times higher than the general population.

The only significant risk factors for recurrent colic were crib biting/windsucking, which carried a 12-time increased risk, and dental problems which increased the risk by six times. Horses with dental disorders can’t chew their feed as well and are more prone to impaction colics and hindgut acidosis. In this population of horses, 10% were windsuckers, so that is clearly a significant risk factor, although the reason for the link is unknown.