Dr. Tania Sundra

29 August 2021

Six Risk Factors of Colic

A recent review summarised the current literature on potential risk factors for colic in horses. Here’s a summary on what they found :

  • Increasing age of the horse was identified as a significant risk factor in seven studies.
  • A previous history of colic was associated with an increased risk of colic in seven studies. The majority of studies defined this as being within the previous 12 months.
  • Crib biting and windsucking behaviour were reported as having a positive association with an increased risk of equine colic in review. These were published between 2004-2014, and this had not been reported in previous studies. Crib biting and windsucking behaviour should be investigated and considered as a potential confounding factor for future research into risk factors for colic.
  • High concentrate intake (>2.5kg/day) was identified as a risk factor in three of the studies. This is consistent with physiological studies that have shown changes in hindgut flora with increasing levels of carbohydrate feeding. The amount and type of concentrate associated with increased risk however requires further investigation, including the amount of concentrate related to the size of the horse.
  • Changes in feeding management associated with an increased risk of colic were the main finding relating to feed. This include changes in both forage and concentrate, and changes within the previous 2 weeks or the previous 12 months. Despite these variations in methodology and findings, there is still a reasonable body of evidence to support this as being a risk factor-three case-control studies in the systematic review reported an increased risk with recent (within two weeks) changes.
  • The other main management factor related to changes in housing. This was identified as a significant risk factor in three case-control studies in the review, and in all three studies this was reported as a recent (2 weeks or less) change in housing. A change in housing or stabling may also be associated with change in feed and exercise, and therefore there is likely to be interaction between these factors. Change in management has long been anedoctally associated with colic, but the evidence from the systematic review supports this. Avoiding changes, or introducing changes gradually should be a key aspect of preventative management to reduce the risk of colic in the horse.

This study is very useful in describing different risk factors for colic. Many of these factors are within our control and can be adjusted by the owner. This helps horse owners and vets to create management and preventative care programms to reduce the risk of colic.


To discuss any of these findings in relation to your horse, please contact us on 0427 072 095.

Read the full paper here : Curtis, Laila, et al. “Risk factors for acute abdominal pain (colic) in the adult horse: A scoping review of risk factors, and a systematic review of the effect of management-related changes.” PLoS ONE, vol. 14, no. 7, 2019, p. e0219307.

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