Two articles in the January 2015 issue of Equus magazine have me feeling thankful about colic. The first article summarized research about broodmares who had ‘twisted guts.’ The prognosis for survival decreased dramatically the longer before treatment began. “Mares who had been colicking for two to four hours prior to arriving at the clinic were three times less likely to survive than were those admitted within two hours of the appearance of colic signs. Further, horses colicking four or more hours were nearly 12 times less likely to survive than were those who arrived at the clinic within the first two hours.” (1)
Several years ago one of my mares showed signs of ‘twisted gut.’ We are normally two hours from our vet and we had been consulting with him for an hour before we decided to transport. The trip took a half hour longer than usual because of blizzard conditions then we waited a half hour in the hospital parking lot for the doctor to arrive. I’m very thankful Dr. Gotchey was able to beat the odds and save my mare’s life and that of the foal in-utero.
Coincidentally one of the veterinarians involved in the research on ‘twisted gut’ once examined another of my mares. She showed signs of colic here but after the two hour trailer ride was pronounced healthy at the hospital. (For more on her mild recurrent colic, click here.)
The second article in Equus described a fascinating study of the microbiota of broodmares prior to and after foaling, comparing those who colicked postpartum and those who didn’t. “Looking at pre- and post-foaling microbiota populations among study mares who did not colic, the researchers found little change. Among the 24 mares who developed colic during the study period, however, significant changes in the microbiota were found, even before clinical signs of gut pain were apparent.” (2)
I feel fortunate to have only had one case of post-partum colic. It was about two hours after foaling when I was still keeping a close eye on mom and baby, so mom immediately got a big dose of my trusty probiotic. She recovered within an hour. A healthy dose of my probiotic has been a standard part of my mares’ post partum feed bucket ever since.
My probiotic is actually a prebiotic rather than a probiotic. It promotes a healthy environment for beneficial gut microbes rather than supplementing the microbe population directly (click here for more on the difference between prebiotics and probiotics.)
I have reversed numerous colic episodes with my probiotic over the years, so I wasn’t surprised by the research finding that the gut microbial environment differed between healthy and colicky mares. All of my ponies get the probiotic regularly to help keep their guts friendly to healthy microbiota. I also have a couple of other management practices that help minimize the incidence of colic. For instance, my ponies never receive grain; I choose to feed energy via fat and protein instead (click here for more info). I also believe that the free choice minerals they have access to are an anti-colic strategy because they help keep the gut pH in a healthy range that also supports a healthy microbial population (click here for more on loose free choice minerals.)
Colic is justifiably a source of worry for equine stewards. These two articles, however, make me thankful for my vet and my nutritional program. Knowing that I have a good preventive program and a good vet to fall back on when I need one helps keep my worry to a minimum.
- Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “Colic Treatment Delays Can Be Deadly,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 11.
- Barakat, Christine and Mick McCluskey. “A New Clue to Postparum Colic Risk,” Equus #448, January 2015, p. 13.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2015
You can read an in-utero foal’s view of ‘twisted gut’ in My Name is Madie, available internationally by clicking here.