Keeping Your Horse Hydrated During the Winter Months to Avoid Colic

Big jackets and hot chocolate is a sign of winter weather in Florida, but this time of year can also bring additional challenges for horse owners. During these cooler weather months horses can decrease their water consumption amount due to colder water temperature. Horses that aren’t getting adequate water are at greater risk for impaction colic. Colic is an abdominal pain caused from any abdominal organ, not just the horse’s gastrointestinal tract. The average healthy horse usually drinks five to fifteen gallons of water a day, but that is sometimes hard to monitor. Monitoring your horse’s physical appearance and vital signs is a good way to assess hydration. Signs of dehydration are dry mucous membranes, slow capillary refill time, skin pinch or skin tent time is prolonged (greater than 1 second), sunken eyes, drawn up appearance, dry manure, and lethargic.

Horses are designed to be continuous eaters, and usually graze for sixteen or more hours a day. During winter months pasture quality declines and horses are supplemented with an increase amount of hay. Grass has a much higher water content of around eighty percent and hay is around sixteen percent. The increase in dry matter forage coupled with decrease in water intake makes the horse prone to impaction colic.

Recognizing colic symptoms

Colic signs can range from mild to serve depending on the source of discomfort. Understanding your horse’s normal behavior and vital signs can help you determine what is abnormal for your horse. Adult horses should have a normal rectal temperature of 99-101 degrees Fahrenheit, a respiration rate of 10-24 breaths per minute, and a heart rate of 24-48 beats per minute. The horse’s gums should be pink and moist with a capillary refill time of 2 seconds.

Colic symptoms

  • Laying down frequently
  • Decreased appetite or not eating
  • Reduced manure
  • Depressed
  • Lip curling
  • Pawing
  • Flank watching
  • Stretching out
  • Rolling
  • Increased breathing
  • Kicking at the abdomen
  • Bloated abdomen

Treatment for colic

If you notice your horse is showing colic symptoms it is always better to call your veterinarian sooner than later. You should call them as soon as you notice a problem and always keep Banamine in your horse’s first aid kit.

  • Stay calm
  • Check your horse vital signs
  • Remove feed and hay
  • DO NOT remove your horse’s water
  • Walk you horse if they are rolling.

Management and Prevention

Good management is always important to keeping a healthy horse. Always make sure to provide clean and fresh water daily for your horse to consume. During those colder day providing clean and warmer water can entice your horse to drink. Adding the recommended amount of electrolytes to your horses feed or providing salt (block or loose) can also increase water intake.

If you have any additional questions please do not hesitate to contact your local Livestock Extension Agent or veterinarian. UF/IFAS Extension Osceola County Livestock Extension Agent can be reached at 321-697-3000 or


Posted: December 9, 2020

Category: Agriculture, Livestock, UF/IFAS Extension
Tags: Brittany Justesen, Colic, Dehydration, Equine, Horse, UF/IFAS Extension

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