Diet Induced Colic In Horses


Diet Induced Colic In HorsesWhat Types Of Colic Do Horses Get?
What Is Diet Induced Colic?
How can the Risk of Colic be Reduced?


Diet induced colic in horses is one of many types of colic and it is unfortunately the leading medical cause of death in horses.

Colic refers to pain in a horse’s abdomen typically involving the colon. Mostly the main cause is unknown.

There are many different types of colic not related to diet. They are:

  • Impaction colic is where sand, dirt, feed or other indigestible material accumulate in the colon. Blocks waste disposal.
  • Intussusception colic occurs in the intestine and slides like a telescope within a portion of itself, cutting off blood supply and blockage results. Often caused by tapeworms and other parasites.
  • Gastric rupture colic is rare, when an impaction reaches the horse’s stomach. It can also occur when gas accumulates and dilates the horse’s stomach.
  • Strangulation is a lethal form of colic. The twist forms in the colon or small intestine. As a result, blood supply is cut off and this leads to tissue death.
  • Spasmodic colic is the contraction of the bowel in an abnormal manner. This results in an “over-active” GI tract that creates painful spasms. Mostly associated with a build up of gases, it can occur in nervous, highly strung or frightened horses.


The process in a direct result of overfeeding processed grains and sweet feeds that are high in carbohydrates and sugar.

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The stomach and small intestine can only digest up to 2.2kg of grain and sugar at a time. It is the overflow of undigested feed that results in a lower pH in the colon and cecum leading to handout acidosis.

5 Steps In The Progression Of Colic Caused By Diet

  1. Decreased pH in the hindgut (acid increases)
  2. Modifies the healthy microbiome balance and mucosal lining of the colon compromised.
  3. Colonic ulcers and endotoxin release into the blood stream
  4. Blood flow restriction to the colon and small intestine
  5. Colon tissue weakened and death results in blockages


There is significant recent research into showing the connection between feeding horses high amounts grain rich in simple carbohydrates and sugars and the increased risk in the development of colic. Gas colic is another form which results from the over-fermentation of food in the hindgut, pressure buildup long the gastrointestinal line which causes discomfort.

  • Smaller meals can ensure full digestion of starches and sugars before reaching the hindgut.
  • Increase roughage and fibre sources to aid digestion
  • Feed salt – typically 10g per 100kg bodyweight per day to activate thirst and always ensure water is available at all times
  • Provide healthy digestive support supplements to promote a healthier microbiome

By improving the feed profile and management, this can greatly reduce the risk of diet induced colic in horses.

Written by Bryan Meggitt (BMedSc. PGCrtMedSc.)
Biochemist / Senior Scientist and Co-founder of CEN Horse Nutrition

Bryan is passionate about improving equine health through nutrition according to science & nature.

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