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Risk Factors for Recurring ColicBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · March 26, 2012

If your horse colics once, it’s somewhat more likely to have another colic episode in the future, according to research recently done at the University of Liverpool.

A study was conducted using 127 horses that had had a medical (veterinarian was called for treatment) but not surgical colic. Records showed that 35 of the horses had one or more additional cases of medical colic in the next year, with four horses requiring surgery.

Two subgroups of horses, cribbers and those with dental abnormalities, had higher colic recurrence rates than others in the study group. It was theorized that horses with dental problems may not chew their feed and hay well, putting them at risk for impaction colic. These horses had broken teeth, sharp hooks, and other dental abnormalities and were five to six times more likely to have recurrent colic than others in the group.

Cribbers—horses that set their teeth against a solid edge or object and appear to gulp air—were 12 times more likely than others to have recurrent colic, but the researchers warned against the implication that cribbing causes colic. More likely, they stated, horses that crib may have an unidentified gut physiology that leads them to begin cribbing and also increases their risk of developing colic. If a horse is identified as a cribber, owners should make management changes to minimize situations that increase colic risk.

It should be noted that colic is one of the most common equine maladies and can occur in any horse, regardless of the most carefully controlled feeding and management strategies. On the other hand, some horses managed in ways that would seem to put them at risk may never develop colic. Owners need to be aware of common risk factors; use the best practices to minimize risk; and call a veterinarian to examine any horse showing colic signs.