The Power of Nutritional Management in Colic Prevention
Colic is a disease syndrome mainly associated with management, such as stall confinement and nutrition, linked to mucosal transport, motility and microbiome changes in the GUT. While many other physiological factors are unpredictable, some risks could be minimized by simple management changes. Thus, preventing or minimizing colic occurrences, for the health and welfare of horses, and significantly reduce medical expenses. This recent review article by Anthony Blikslager (DVM, PhD), collected varied evidence on the potential effects of management and nutrition on colic prevalence, suggesting optimal practices for prevention and avoiding surgery.
About 40% of colic cases that require surgical intervention are associated with simple obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract and have the greatest chance of prevention by optimal management practices. Recommended practices include; continues feeding of a forage-based diet, as well as plenty of turnout and moderate exercise.
As hindgut fermenters, ingested forage is rapidly passed from the stomach to the small intestine, and into the cecum and large colon, requiring large volumes of fluid secreted by the salivary glands, pancreas, and small intestinal mucosa. Dramatic shifts of colonic fluid and colonic distension, derived from single-meal instead of continues feeding, can lead to colonic displacement or volvulus.
Additionally, large concentrate meals are associated with increased fluid secretion into the small intestine and decreased transit time, resulting in plasma volume reduction and increase presentation of soluble carbohydrates to the cecum and large colon. These, in turn, stimulate fluid absorption from the large colon, subsequently dehydrating colonic contents as well as triggering significant microbiome shifts. Furthermore, all feed changes should be gradual, as abrupt alterations in feed composition may also result in microbiome shifts in motility and gas producing bacteria, possibly triggering gas distensions and colonic displacements.
Moreover, the accumulation of sand in the large colon, causing sand impaction, is common when horses are fed from the ground on sandy soils or actively eat sand (geophagia) due to nutritional deficiencies. While irritation of the colonic mucosa could also trigger diarrhea as an inflammatory response, parasite accumulation and migration could cause non-strangulating infraction or intestinal obstructions. Thus, deworming program management is critical in reducing colic incidences.
In conclusion, many colic risk factors could be reduced by proper management of nutrition, turnout, and parasites, including continuous access to forage and regular daily exercise and turnout. As an optimal individualized diet could minimize mucosal water transport changes and microbiome shifts, helping to reduce the prevalence of colic in horses.