by Casie Bazay Collaborator

Natural Remedies for Colic in Horses

Natural Remedies for Colic in Horses

Published: September 2020 | Updated: July 2022

Mineral Oil, Baking Soda, and Beer, Oh My!

Dealing with equine colic is never fun, but if you have horses, chances are, you’ll experience it at some point. Excluding old age, colic is the number one cause of death for horses. It’s important to note that colic isn’t a disease in and of itself, but rather a symptom of another problem. 

The condition can have multiple causes, but the good news is that the majority of colic cases are mild and easily resolved.

Since colic is such a commonly experienced problem, over the years, horse owners have come up with a variety of home remedies to treat it, many of which have questionable results and others that are downright dangerous. 

Let’s discuss a few of the natural home remedies for colic in horses that have come up over the years. 

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Mineral Oil for Horses

Veterinarians often treat colic by inserting a nasogastric tube and pumping mineral oil into the horse’s digestive tract to push out any impacted manure. However, owners should never attempt this on their own as the tube can easily end up in the lungs, leading to fatal pneumonitis. Feeding mineral oil as a preventative isn’t recommended either. 

Mineral oil is inert and therefore indigestible, offering no nutritional value to the horse. However, the problem is that, if fed on a regular basis, it may decrease the digestion and absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. 

Baking Soda for Horse Colic

Baking soda, or more technically, sodium bicarbonate, is known for its alkalizing properties and it happens to be another ingredient some have tried to give as a horse colic preventative or remedy, especially for horses suffering from ulcers (who may be more prone to colic). 

However, baking soda for colic isn’t likely to help because it breaks down in the stomach and won’t offer a buffering effect in the digestive system. Baking soda may not necessarily be harmful, but it most likely won’t help in the treatment of colic, or ulcers for that matter. 

Can Horses Drink Beer?

Interestingly enough, beer is another natural remedy for colic that’s been around for a while. In fact, WWII era documents recommended that soldiers give their horses beer if they were experiencing colic – likely because there weren’t veterinarians there to attend to the horses. 

Today some people still resort to treating colic in horses with beer and while it isn’t exactly dangerous to give your horse in small amounts, it should never be relied on as the sole treatment method for colic. 

The only type of colic that beer may, in fact, help with is spasmodic colic. This is due to beer’s ability to anesthetize and relax the gut muscles somewhat. However, since most horse owners won’t know what type of colic their horse is experiencing, they can’t assume beer will take care of the digestive system problem. 

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Herbs for Colic? 

Owners interested in natural equine health may be tempted to use herbs to treat colic episodes as well. Dandelion, meadowsweet, valerian root, chamomile, and peppermint have all been touted to prevent or treat colic, and while these herbs do have beneficial properties and may be helpful with certain issues, they cannot necessarily be relied on to treat acute cases of colic, especially if impaction is to blame.

Chamomile and valerian root, in particular, are known for their antispasmodic properties and may be helpful with gas (spasmodic) colic, but again, most horse owners won’t know what type of colic they’re dealing with and delaying veterinary treatment can lead to a poorer outcome for your horse. 

Using CBD oil, derived from the hemp plant, has been gaining in popularity with horse owners and some have even used it to treat colic. While CBD oil appears to be fairly safe and does have some therapeutic properties, it may give the horse owner a false sense of security that the colic is actually resolved when that actually isn’t the case. 

What About Enemas?

Since many people think of colic as a form of constipation, it may be tempting to give some sort of an enema to your horse in order to “flush out” the intestines. However, this can be downright dangerous for an adult horse. 

NEVER insert anything into your horse’s rectum (aside from a thermometer) as the horse’s rectum is extremely fragile and you could tear the tissue. Rectal tears can lead to secondary peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining), which is often fatal. 

How to Treat Colic in Horses

If your horse is experiencing symptoms and displaying signs of colic, your first step should be calling your veterinarian, as well as removing all hay and feed. It’s important to note that, sometimes, even mild symptoms may not reflect the severity of the problem and delaying veterinary treatment could have deadly results. 

As you wait for your vet to arrive, check for any recent manure from your horse and if you find some, put a small amount in a baggie to show your vet. Hand-walking your horse is usually okay, but never force an unwilling horse to walk and don’t overdo it. 

Your vet may recommend giving banamine, if you have that on hand, but it’s wise to ask for guidance before treating colic yourself.

While colic can’t always be prevented, there are several measures you can take to reduce your horse’s chances of experiencing it:

  1. Feed a forage-based diet (based on hay or grass) and limit the amount of grain you feed. 
  2. Make sure your horse always has fresh, clean water available. 
  3. Provide salt in both block and loose form to encourage drinking, especially in winter.
  4. Allow your horse to get plenty of daily exercise with turnout and/or riding.
  5. Keep your horse on a regular parasite control program, using fecal egg counts as needed. 
  6. Feed certain supplements such as equine probiotics to keep the gut functioning smoothly. 

Most importantly, if your horse does experience digestive distress, don’t rely on home remedies such as mineral oil, baking soda, beer, herbs, or enemas. It’s much wiser to seek medical attention and leave the treatment plan to the professionals instead! 

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