Reducing the risk of colic

August 2019

Colic can occur at any time of the year in both grass-kept and stabled horses. Studies have shown that the risk of abdominal pain in horses is higher with increasing age, within the Arab breed, following recent changes in diet or housing, and in horses with a history of previous abdominal pain. In some horses, the specific cause of colic may never be determined and is often described as ‘unknown origin’. Due to the many potential risk factors for colic there are plenty of simple steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of it occurring.

Feeding and Watering Precautionary measures

  • The horse’s diet should be predominantly composed of forage (for example, hay, haylage, grass).
  • Do not make sudden changes to your horse’s diet. Ensure new feeds are introduced gradually.
  • If concentrate feeds are really needed, feed them little and often.
  • Ensure a constant supply of clean, fresh drinking water is available when the horse is at rest.
  • Do not allow horses to graze on sandy surfaces e.g. pasture with sparse grazing.
  • Ensure un-soaked sugar beet or grass cuttings are not fed to horses.

Routine Healthcare

  • Maintain a strategic worm control programme
  • Regular dental checks

Change in Season

  • Grass growth and grazing restrictions
  • Stabling and effects on diet and exercise


Exercise requirements vary, but any change in intensity or duration must be gradual. Sudden changes to exercise regimes may result in the onset of colic and other problems. Horses should always be appropriately warmed up prior to and cooled down after exercise.

Natural Predisposition

  • Displacements
  • Strangulations (twisted gut)
  • Torsions (rotation)

Additional Causes

All horses are individual and can react differently in various circumstances which could potentially lead to colic. This can include:

  • A stressful or exciting event
  • Windsucking/crib-biting
  • Sedation can slow down gut function
  • General anaesthetic

Download our leaflets

The British Horse Society and The University of Nottingham have produced a variety of leaflets discussing the wide range of issues related to colic. The information has been produced from the evidence, recommendations and involvement of veterinary surgeons, horse owners and original research conducted by The University of Nottingham.

Please read and download our leaflets for further information.


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