Winter is fast approaching and the temperature is getting colder. You might start to notice that your horse is not drinking as much water as before. This could lead to an impaction colic; without enough water, the partially digested food material can become very dry and become lodged within the intestines.
Impaction colic is a common problem in horses, especially during the colder months. Impactions generally cause simple obstructions of the gastrointestinal tract and is generally not life-threatening, unless it is a severe impaction causing gut rupture. Impactions can occur anywhere along the guts, but more commonly at specific locations where the bowels turn sharply (e.g. cecum, pelvic flexure of large intestine).
Depending on the location of the impaction, physical symptoms might vary. Generally, the horse will show mild to moderate signs of abdominal pain (e.g. kicking at belly, pawing at ground, not eating as much). If there is a large impaction, you might see that the abdomen starts getting bigger. Your horse might also not be passing stools as frequently or at all. It is important that you see a veterinarian soon to determine the severity of the problem.
Firstly your veterinarian will take a detailed history about the diet, management changes, and clinical signs. A complete physical examination of your horse will then be conducted, sometimes including a rectal examination. Your veterinarian might pass a nasogastric tube, to check if there is any reflux (food blocked in the stomach due to the impaction). A blood sample may also be taken to check that there are no other abnormalities.
After confirming the diagnosis, your horse will receive appropriate treatment for pain. Surgery can be an option if the impaction is severe, or if the horse’s condition is unstable or does not respond to medical treatment. Mineral oil drenching is also provided to promote stool softening and passage, as well as fluids to rehydrate the horse. Light walking is advised to increase digestive function. It is important to also constantly monitor the amount and consistency of stools your horse passes after treatment.
Impaction colic is a common problem in horses, and can be stressful and long to manage. To prevent impaction colic from occurring, check regularly that your horse is drinking enough water during winter and has adequate access to water and good quality hay.