Ask an Expert

Impaction Colic in the Winter

November 2, 2010

A member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners offers tips to keep your horse drinking through the winter months.

Question:

I live in the middle of Tennessee -  where the weather can change drastically from warm to cold in a short period of time. I worry about impaction colic during these times. Can you suggest ways to increase a horse’s water intake when the weather suddenly turns cold?

Answer:

This is a great question, since as you noted, the majority of the colics I attend to occur during changes in seasons. The horse’s metabolic rate increases during winter (to maintain body temperature), and water intake must increase as well. Consequently, mild dehydration leading to impaction colic is a common problem in almost all areas of the U.S.

I’m afraid I can’t offer any foolproof “tricks” to get horses to drink more water, but I can share several ideas:

  1. Try flavoring the water. I use sugar free KoolAid packets and don’t be afraid to try several different flavors until you find the right one.
  2. A few alfalfa cubes left to soak in water to make a “tea” is a desirable flavor to some horses.
  3. If you are able, experiment with water temperature. I have seen some horses dislike very cold water, while lukewarm turns off others.
  4. If you use any sort of electrical water heater to avoid ice formation, make sure it is properly grounded. Free voltage will drive some horses away from water, and it can be so slight that you won’t feel anything when your hand is in the water.
  5. If you don’t already, have a salt block or mineral block available to your horse.
  6. Spend even more time than usual making sure that your water buckets/troughs are extra clean. Beware, however, of using chemicals that may leave an unpleasant residue in the water container.

- Dr. Reece Myran, member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners