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Mitigating Colic Risk in Postpartum Mares

Colic is a prevalent and potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in horses at any time, including during a mare’s postpartum recovery period. Various factors can increase the likelihood of colic in postpartum mares, such as dietary changes, stress, and limited mobility during the recovery phase. Postpartum mares are at more significant risk of colic due to several contributing factors, such as:

1. Hormonal changes: The hormonal changes that occur during and after foaling can affect the mare's digestive system and make her more susceptible to colic.

2. Reduced forage intake: After giving birth, mares often experience a reduced appetite due to normal post-foaling pain. This may lead to changes in intestinal motility and an increased risk of impaction colic.

3. Dehydration: Mares may become dehydrated during the foaling process due to sweating and fluid loss, which can also increase the risk of colic.

4. Physical stress: The foaling process can be physically stressful for mares, and this stress can also affect their digestive system and increase the risk of colic.

5. Reduced exercise: Mares may be kept in a stall or small paddock after giving birth to allow them to bond with their foal and prevent injury, but this can also lead to reduced exercise and increased risk of colic.

6. Previous colic: Mares with a history of colic are at higher risk for colic postpartum than other pregnant mares.

7. High grain intake: Mares fed a high-grain diet postpartum are at increased risk for colic. A high-grain diet can predispose horses to hindgut dysbiosis and subsequent colic.

The above list of risk factors for postpartum colic includes external influences that can affect the gut microbiota. While postpartum mares are known to be at high risk for colic, researchers from the University of Guelph in Canada wanted to investigate further to determine if there is a connection between fecal microbiota and colic in postpartum mares.

For this study, fecal samples were taken from 221 mares 14 days before their due date and again on days four, 14, and 28 days post-foaling. The fecal samples were analyzed using gene extraction and sequencing to identify the bacteria present and their quantities. The researchers found little change in the microbiota populations of mares who did not experience colic during their postpartum recovery. However, significant differences were observed in the microbiota of the 24 mares who developed colic during the study period, even before any signs of colic pain were noticeable.

It is crucial for mare owners to understand that postpartum mares are at a higher risk of experiencing colic. Providing the postpartum mare with a diet and management plan that reduces her colic risk is essential. This includes avoiding excess grain intake, limiting any changes to diet, providing adequate forage intake, managing any post-foaling pain, minimizing stress, and ensuring sufficient daily turnout exercise. It is also essential to closely watch postpartum mares and promptly address any signs of colic with your veterinarian.

We use FullBucket Probiotics at the Fenway Foundation and highly recommend probiotics for all horses, particularly those who need additional support, such as horses on antibiotic therapy, horses recovering from colic or colic surgery, pregnant and postpartum mares, and foals.

Reference: “Changes in the faecal microbiota of mares precede the development of postpartum colic,” Equine Veterinary Journal, October 2014.


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