by Casie Bazay

Natural Treatments for Gas Colic in Horses

Natural Treatments for Gas Colic in Horses

There’s nothing like the word ‘colic’ to strike fear in the hearts of horse owners. After all, it is the number one medical killer of horses worldwide. However, the term colic technically encompasses many different conditions with a variety of causes. Colic simply refers to abdominal pain, which could take place in multiple gastro-intestinal organs and vary in severity and prognosis. 

Of all the different types of equine colic, gas colic, also known as spasmodic colic, tends to be one of the milder forms. It’s also one of the most common forms of colic in horses. 

When gas builds up in the intestines, it causes the gut wall to expand, leading to mild to moderate pain for the horse. The pain is caused by repetitive intestinal spasms. The good news is that gas colic is usually resolved fairly easily. 

However, occasionally, a large build up of gas can cause the colon to move from its normal place within the abdomen, leading to impaction colic, where the intestines become blocked. Gas colic may also lead to a twist in the colon that requires emergency surgery. Therefore, gas colic should always be taken seriously.

What Causes Gas Colic in Horses?

Gas colic occurs when the microbes in the colon produce excessive gas. This often happens when there are dietary changes or when the horse is consuming highly fermented feeds. 

Some of the most common causes of gas colic include:

  • Sudden changes in feed. This could include a change in concentrates, hay, or even changing pastures. 
  • Consumption of high-NSC grasses or hays. For example, grazing in pastures with high clover content or after sudden, lush growth 
  • An impaction which prevents the normal passing of gas through the GI tract
  • Inadequate forage consumption. This usually occurs in stalled or dry-lotted horses that are only fed two hay feedings per day 
  • Gastrointestinal ulcers'Inadequate exercise

Signs of Gas Colic in Horses

Colic is nearly always evident by its symptoms, and most horse owners become attuned to these symptoms over time and with experience. The signs of gas colic are similar to other types of colic. 

They often include: 

  • Pawing
  • Looking at or biting at the belly
  • Repeatedly lying down and getting up
  • Repeated rolling
  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • Not passing manure 
  • Passing only small, hard manure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Stretching as if to urinate
  • Depression or lethargy
  • Elevated heart rate and/or respiratory rate
  • Frequent gut sounds or a lack of gut sounds
  • Distended abdomen

Signs of gas colic may also come and go as the pockets of gas shift.

Though gas colic is the most common form of colic seen in horses, consulting with your veterinarian is always a good idea upon seeing the first signs. Your veterinarian can likely determine the cause of the colic and administer treatment to ease discomfort and hopefully get the GI tract back on track. 

Antispasmodic medication such as banamine (Flunixin meglumine) is often given to horses with gas colic in order to reduce gut contractions resulting from gas distension. Additionally, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) may be given to reduce pain. Other common treatments for gas colic include administration of mineral oil or electrolytes through a nasogastric tube (*Note: this should only be done by a vet). 

How to Prevent Gas Colic in Horses

Preventing gas colic is a far better option than having to deal with it. Prevention mainly involves solid feeding and management practices. 

These include:

  • Make all grain and hay changes gradually over a period of 7-10 days.
  • Gradually transition horses to pasture if they’ve been stalled or dry lotted, or if they are moving from one pasture to another (especially if there is lusher growth). 
  • Monitor grass growth in pastures; remove horses from pasture during lush growth periods, if necessary.
  • Don’t feed large amounts of grain or other concentrates. Instead, provide a forage-based diet and only provide grain/concentrates if absolutely needed. 
  • Avoid sweet feeds or other feeds with high molasses content.
  • Provide access to clean, fresh water at all times.
  • Provide turnout as much as possible.
  • Adopt a regular feeding and management routine to reduce stress. 
  • Have your horse’s teeth checked by an equine dentist at least yearly. Keeping your horse’s teeth floated will help them to properly and thoroughly chew their food. 
  • Maintain regular parasite control.
  • Ensure horses not on pasture have continual access to forage. Slow feeder hay nets or other slow feeder products are a good way to do this.

Natural Treatments for Gas Colic in Horses

Along with applying the above tips for good feeding and management practices, providing natural treatments for horse gas colic prevention is also important. Most of these involve nutritional supplements. 

For example, B vitamins can help support the digestive tract lining and help to reduce stress. They are good to add into your horse’s diet around times of stress such as travel or competition. 

Additionally, yeast, including both live yeast and yeast culture, helps to protect the immune system by keeping hindgut bacteria healthy. 

Fullbucket’s Regular Strength Probiotic Pellets contain 25 billion CFU’s of Saccharomyces boulardii, a yeast strain of probiotic, as well as other ingredients to support a healthy gut and aid in the prevention of conditions such as gas colic. For senior horses or those that have a history of digestive upset, using our Extra Strength Probiotic may be a better option, as this product contains 50 Billion CFU’s of Saccharomyces boulardii.

In Summary

Though equine gas colic is common and can usually be resolved, it can occasionally lead to more serious forms of colic that require surgery for the horse’s survival. Therefore, it should always be taken seriously and treated right away. 

Prevention of gas colic involves good management and feeding routines. By supplementing with a high-quality probiotic that includes yeast strains, you may be able to further prevent this problem.  

However, sometimes gas colic can still occur without warning. If your horse shows any signs of colic at all, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian right away. 

Photo by Kalina Ost: https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-white-horse-laying-on-ground-1454871/

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