Ensuring all equine in South Carolina live in a safe, healthy and nurturing environment.
Lexington South Carolina 803-729-3692
by Heather Smith Thomas
| Impaction is a common problem in winter caused when horses do not drink enough water. If the horse is at pasture with a water source that freezes, or the automatic waterer quits working, or his tub of ice is not dumped out and replaced with water often enough, he may become short on fluid.|
Owners may diligently fill the buckets or tubs, but if they freeze before the horse drinks, the animal may be seriously shortchanged.
This is especially common if the horse is watered just in the evening. When nights are long and cold, the horse doesn't drink as much as he would during the day--but if the water freezes at night, he goes thirsty until his owner comes home from work and refills the bucket.
What happens in this type of colic is that the horse eventually becomes dehydrated; the material within the digestive tract dries out, and the horse is constipated. He doesn't have enough fluid in the gut to keep the feed moving through properly.
Impaction may occur before the owner realizes what's happening. The horse will continue to eat at first, then become less interested in food and not clean up his hay. The gut starts to feel "full," so he's not hungry. He may look drawn up in the flanks and may start to show signs of mild colic.
The problem may go unnoticed for several days because first signs of trouble are usually mild. He is in moderate pain and constipated, dull and sluggish. Moderate pain may continue for three to four days or even a week or more. The horse is not violent, and bouts of pain come at intervals. The horse may stretch, lie down or paw. Manure, passed infrequently and in small amounts, is hard and covered with thick, sticky mucus.
He may drink a little water, but not enough. Rectal examination by the vet will reveal firm enlargements in the intestine and a rectum full of hard, dry fecal balls.
Impaction is more serious in horses than in most other animals because of the tremendous capacity of the large intestine. Dry fecal material can gradually accumulate there until it causes enough distention to create pain and colic.
Most cases will respond to treatment--mineral oil, water by stomach tube or IV fluids-- especially if given as soon as detected. The best treatment is two to four quarts of mineral oil by stomach tube, along with a gallon of warm water to soften the mass of feed in the gut. The water permeates and softens the dry mass better than mineral oil.
The oil helps to lubricate the gut content so it can pass through more easily. If the problem is not relieved within 12 hours, more mineral oil and water should be given.
Lack of water usually causes impaction of the large intestine, which is not as serious as impaction of the cecum or valve between small intestine and cecum. There is more time to correct large intestine impaction than that of the cecum, and treatment is usually effective. Remember that a horse may die of impaction if the over-distended gut ruptures.
As with any illness, prevention is better than treatment. Make sure your horse has good quality feeds (not coarse) and plenty of water. Make sure he is drinking enough in cold weather. Horses don't like to drink cold water when they're cold and are more apt to drink in daytime than at night. Keep in mind that research has proven horses will drink more water if the temperature is 45 degrees to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Giving a horse warm water or keeping his water warm with a tank heater, or using an insulated bucket to keep the water from freezing can help to solve the problem of frozen water. Automatic waterers will clearly help keep the water temperature more temperate, as water coming out of the ground is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
If you break ice in a stream, ditch or pond, make sure the horses are actually using the water hole. If they are afraid to step on ice, you may have to sprinkle dirt or gravel on it to give them traction. If they do have to walk on ice, make sure it's frozen solid enough to hold a 1,000-pound animal.
Heather Smith Thomas is a full-time rancher and journalist living in Salmon, Id.
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