Does a sudden weather change really cause a horse to colic?
- Perhaps we should all find a big grain of salt here… And before I even get started, I’ll preface this by saying that there are actual studies that say “yes” and actual studies that say “no”.
Keep memorizing your horse and behaviors, and then it won’t matter what the weather is doing, you can spot colic early.
- And to be ultra, super, ridiculously clear here, it’s important to remember that correlation (being related to) and causation (definitely being the reason why) are not the same.
- There is some correlation between weather and colic in horses, but very little research can prove causation. So, we carry on… and work with what we do know.
71 degrees to 36 degrees in two days?
- Here’s the deal with the weather. I believe that humans react to it much more than animals. We have the luxury of climate control, whereas horses live outside and that’s all they know.
When the weather changes, a few things happen that MAY relate to a horse getting colic – and sometimes it’s just the barn management that gets in the way.
- Water intake. Some horses drink less when the weather is cold. It has actually been shown that horses like to drink cold water, but they don’t drink enough of it. When presented with warmer water, they will drink more. So when the weather changes from warm to cold they might drink less. This is a factor in colic. From the barn management standpoint, you can entice your horse to drink a bit more. Give some electrolytes, offer warm water, add water to his food.
Obviously, your horse will have trouble drinking when the water trough is frozen.
- Moving around. Oh no, it’s getting cold, bring the horses in and batten down the hatches! While in some cases this is a good idea, like wicked lightning or icy ground, this restricts how much moving your horse will do. Knowing that moving your horse’s body helps your horse’s gut stay moving, this may relate to colic. From the barn management perspective – time to hand walk, find a safe spot to turn out, go for a ride, and generally keep his butt moving.
- Your horse’s temperature. Horses are great at regulating their body temperatures. Assuming they have adequate, high-quality forage and options to get out of the wind, most horses are great. However…. there are plenty of reasons to blanket and clip horses and most of us have some variation of a clipping/blanketing routine. And there’s nothing wrong with that. We get into trouble when we decide a cold front (or warm front) needs more or fewer blankets, and we over/under blanket, affecting our horse’s body temperature. And you guessed it – this is a possible factor in colic. An easy way to monitor our horse’s temperature is to use a thermometer. TPR deets can be found here so you can monitor your horse’s temp. From the barn management perspective, using a thermometer is the most accurate way to determine if your horse’s temp is good. Your hand on ears or under a blanket is wildly inaccurate.
- Is his exercise routine varied because of the weather? I’m a bit hardcore, I’ll ride when the temps are below 20 just to move my horse around. But if we can’t get to the barn or we just don’t want to ride in fluctuating weather (I know the wind + silly young horse struggle is real), your horse’s mobility will go down. Similar to being in a barn longer than usual to avoid weather, this decreased exercise can affect his gut and digestive system.
- On the flip side, a warm spell while he still has a furry coat can also create overheating and colic risk factor problems. Just because you can finally ride in a t-shirt doesn’t mean your winter-coated horse will be enjoying the warm temps. An unclipped horse in the winter has a great chance of overheating, so on warmer days, double up on hydration checks, and keep him cool.
- And what about his diet? It’s very tempting if the weather changes to add more of his concentrated foods, or maybe give him a bran mash. Any change to your horse’s diet, regardless of the weather, can impact his gut mobility and health. So keep things on track as they normally are. If you need to add some forage to help him stay warm, be sure it’s the same type that he normally gets! This article here details my dislike of wheat bran mashes and why you shouldn’t just feed them to your horse. It’s a complete myth that bran mashes have more fiber than forage. Hay is about 30% fiber, bran mash is about 10%. From the barn management perspective, no diet changes!
The thermometer is always your friend.
We can’t prove that weather causes colic, but we can certainly say that horse management changes during weather changes may lead to colic.
At any rate, just keep paying attention and being smart about monitoring your horse’s vital signs and water intake. If you would like to learn more about colic and what to tell your vet, read this gem!
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ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking
3M Littmann Classic III Monitoring Stethoscope, Black Edition Chestpiece, Black Tube, 27 inch, 5803 – For finding heart rate and gut sounds