Equine Vet Services


Winter Care

Routine care of your horse doesn't lessen in the winter months. In fact, extra care may be required to keep your horse
in good condition in cold weather. Cold and wet weather can cause problems with hooves, colic, and stable vices (such as cribbing).
Your horse's nutritional needs also increases in cold weather.

Winter Feeding
As the weather gets cold, horses use more energy in staying warm. Their food supplies that energy.Know in advance what you
are going to feed during the upcoming winter months. Waiting until after the first frost kills your summer pasture to decide on a
winter feeding program can be harmful to your horse. Fall pastures were already declining in nutritional benefit, and the good
selection of winter hay might be gone.

The first step in planning a winter diet for your horse is knowing his nutrient needs. In most cases, a combination of hay and
grain will be required to meet his nutritional requirements. It is difficult to judge whether a horse with a heavy winter coat is fat
or thin. Feel for ribs on a regular basis, and adjust the amount of feed if necessary. Horses tolerate cold quite well if they are have
some shelter from windy or wet conditions, but they still may need a bit more feed in cold weather.  A horse that does not have
access to shelter will need additional feed to meet its energy requirements. Make sure that vitamin and mineral requirements
are met as well.  

Increasing hay or a forage diet is better than increasing the grain to meet a horse's increased energy requirements. Hay or forages
contain more fiber than grain, and more heat is produced digesting fiber (hay) than digesting grain. So providing the horse with as
much hay as it will consume without wasting is a good way to provide extra energy.
Increasing hay also helps to provide adequate roughage for the horse to avoid cribbing and other stable vices associated with a lack
of roughage. If his desire to chew on something is not satisfied cribbing often begins during times of wet weather. You should
provide hay free choice to satisfy these needs and avoid potential cribbing problems.

However, during extremely cold conditions or a cold spell for an extended period of time, a horse may not be able to consume enough
hay to meet its energy needs. In that case, grain supplementation may be necessary to meet those energy requirements. But use
caution when adding grain. A sudden large increase in grain can lead to colic and founder. When you're expecting a long or wet cold
spell, gradually increase the horse's diet to accommodate its projected cold weather energy requirements.

Make sure you have quality hay and the right grain and supplements to help your horse in the winter.


Horses should always have access to fresh water. If thirsty, they will lick snow, but it is very difficult for them to get enough water
to survive this way, and they may colic or lose weight. Although water intake is typically reduced during cold spells, horses can still
be expected to drink eight to 12 gallons per day. Ideally, water should be warmed so that the horse will consume adequate amounts.
Water should be available at all times. A water heater is the best solution for winter water needs. If you use an unheated water trough
make sure to break the ice at least twice a day.

Impaction Colic
A problem that sometimes occurs in horses during winter is impaction colic, which is caused by not drinking enough water. If a horse
is at pasture with a water source that freezes up, or his automatic waterer quits working, or his tub of ice is not dumped out and replaced
with water often enough, he may get short on fluid needed to aid in his digestion.

You may diligently fill a bucket or tub as usual, but if most of it freezes, the horse may be seriously shortchanged. This can happen
if the horse is watered just in the evenings. When nights are long and cold the horse doesn't drink as much as he would during daytime
and if his tub freezes up at night, he has no water the next morning and goes thirsty until his owner comes home from work and refills
the tub or bucket. The horse will drink a little, then the water freezes over again.
The horse eventually becomes dehydrated. Food material within the digestive tract dries out and he is constipated. There's not enough
fluid in his gut to keep the feed moving through properly. Impaction may occur before an owner realizes what's happening. The horse will
continue to eat at first, then becomes less interested in food and does not clean up his hay. The gut feels "full" so he's not very hungry.
He may look drawn up in the flanks, and may start to show signs of mild colic or dehydration.

The problem may go unnoticed for several days since first signs of trouble are usually mild. Yet if this is not treated and corrected, it can
be just as potentially fatal as a more acute case of colic. Lack of water usually causes impaction of the large intestine, which is not as
serious as impaction of the cecum or an intestinal blockage or twist (these are harder to treat successfully). There is more time to
correct it, and treatment with mineral oil and water (by stomach tube) is usually effective.

The horse is in moderate pain and constipated, dull and sluggish. He may drink a little water, but not enough. Rectal examination by
a veterinarian will reveal firm enlargements in the intestine and a rectum full of hard, dry fecal balls. Impaction is more serious in horses
than in most other animals, because of the tremendous capacity of the large intestine. Dry fecal material may gradually accumulate
until it causes enough distention to create pain and colic.

Moderate pain may continue for 3 or 4 days or even a week or more, and may appear at intervals. The horse is not violent. He may
stretch, lie down, or paw. Manure is passed infrequently and in small amounts; fecal balls are small and hard and covered with thick,
sticky mucus.

Most cases of this type of dehydration impaction will respond to treatment, especially if treatment is given as soon as the problem
is noticed. A horse may die of impaction, however, if the over-distended gut ruptures, or the horse becomes totally exhausted after
a long course of colic.

The treatment given by most veterinarians is 2 to 4 quarts of mineral oil by stomach tube, along with a gallon or 2 of warm water to
soften the mass of feed in the gut--water will permeate and soften the dry mass better than mineral oil will. The oil helps lubricate the
gut contents so they can pass through more easily. If the problem is not relieved within 12 hours, more mineral oil and water should
be given. In some cases the veterinarian may also inject a drug to stimulate the intestines, after the contents have been softened up
by the water and lubricated with oil.

Prevention of impaction is much better than having to treat it. Make sure horses have good quality roughage (not too coarse) and plenty
of water. Especially make sure a horse is drinking enough in cold weather. He doesn't like to drink cold water when he's cold, and is
more apt to drink during daytime than at night. Giving him warm water or keeping his water warm with a tank heater, or using an
insulated bucket to keep water from freezing can help solve the problem of having it freeze up before he drinks it.

Hoof Care-
oof care becomes critical during winter months. Many times horse's feet become so wet that the outer covering of the foot
deteriorates, which causes cracking and splitting. Mud and sand can work their way into the cracks, causing the hoof to spread
even further. Every effort should be made to keep the hoof wall intact. This can be done by keeping the hoof as dry as possible
and applying hoof dressing regularly. Hoof dressing is basically an oil or grease that keeps water from soaking into the foot.
During wet weather, this is a very difficult task; however, it is important to maintain the hoof quality and integrity.

If you will not be riding during the winter months, have your horse's shoes pulled in the fall. Shoes are slippery on frozen surfaces,
and also sometimes cause snow to ball up in the hoof, so most horses are better off without them for the winter. All horses, shod or
not, need their hooves trimmed about every eight weeks - more often if the hoof is growing fast, possibly a little less often if the hoof
is unusually slow-growing or is wearing off. During the muddy season, thrush (a smelly infection of the hoof) may be a problem, so
keep checking your horse's hooves on a regular basis.

If your horse needs to wear shoes all winter, either because you will be riding or because the horse has fragile hooves that need
the protection, ask your farrier to advise you about special shoeing for traction and/or rubber inserts to prevent snowballs forming
in the hoof.

Hair Care-
A horse's hair coat is its first defense from the cold. Horses that live outdoors in cold winter climates need their long hair to trap
an insulating layer of air to keep warm. A long coat will provide tremendous warmth as long as it is kept dry.
 Do not body clip
unless you can provide adequate protection and blanketing throughout the winter.  Even the hair in the ears and around the fetlocks
adds to the insulation, so do not clip those areas if possible. The natural grease in the coat is water repellent, so think twice about
bathing horses in the winter.

When cold weather sets in, the hair stands up, trapping and retaining body heat. Once the hair coat becomes wet, it loses its insulating
ability and lays flat against the horse's skin, lowering the horse's critical temperature and increasing feed needs. With that in mind, it is
often economical to consider building a three-sided shed or windbreak to shelter the horse from the wind and moisture.


A "run-in" shelter will provide your horse with protection without confining him to a stall.

Late winter is often when fungus or parasites cause skin problems, as the dampness and long hair provide a site for ringworm,
lice or mites. Usually the horse will let you know about the problem by itching, often rubbing patches of mane or other hair off.
If you groom the horse regularly, you should notice the problem in its early stages. Isolate the horse so as not to infect others,
and if the problem is unfamiliar to you, contact a vet about diagnosis and treatment.

After you have had a week or two of consistently frosty weather, horses should be wormed with a chemical that controls
bots as well as other kinds of worms. Because of the cold, horses usually do not become re-infected with worms as quickly
in the winter as during the warmer months.

Respiratory Ailments-
During the winter months, many horses are kept in closed barns and respiratory problems develop. When the barn is closed up
because of rain or cold weather, ammonia, dust, and stale air are trapped in the barn. Most of the ammonia and dust remains
2 to 3 feet off the ground. This makes air quality a big problem for young horses. It is important to have good ventilation and air flow
through the barn to maintain good air quality and minimize respiratory problems.

To improve the air quality in a barn it is better to open the barn doors and create a good air flow. Or the barn should be designed to
have good air flow through vents on the sides and in the roof to maintain air flow when barn doors are closed. Clean stalls daily and
removing manure and wet bedding greatly improves the quality of the air. If possible, redesign the bottom of the stall to allow good
air flow at ground level. Slatted boards at the bottom of the stall up to 4 to 5 feet are recommended to allow air flow at ground level.
Wire panels or metal bars are normally recommended for the upper half of the stall.

Equine Veterinary Service
4025 Coleman Cut Road   Paducah, KY. 42001
Phone (270) 554-6601     Fax (270) 554-0089

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If your horse is injured, lame or ill please call us for an appointment.
We will not offer advice, diagnose or treat a horse by email.

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