A characteristic that is often times difficult to pin-point, self-mutilation is sometimes an overlooked concern.
The challenge lies in determining whether it’s truly a self-mutilation concern, or a behavior caused by colic or other health concerns.
So what is self-mutilation in horses? Generally, it’s much more common in males (often stallions) than in females.
The pattern can develop as a colt, where they may begin to nip at their chest or flank. It is often brought by the on-set of sexual maturity. It can start as missing patches in the hair coat, and progress to more prevalent wounds.
It is important, if your horse is displaying signs of self-mutilation, to consult your veterinarian to rule out internal or external sources of pain.
This can often times be the reason for the self-mutilation, so it’s important to troubleshoot these issues with your veterinarian.
Eliminating the pain (if present) is the first step in combating the problem. Other options could include a ridged neck cradle, providing more time out of confinement, adding a stall-mate or increasing work or exercise.
Like with cribbing, feed management can also play a factor. Providing free-choice hay, with a slow feeding haynet can sometimes ease that boredom that can be associated with the cause of self-mutilation.
Again, consult your veterinarian on a treatment plan that will best fit you and your horse.
What is colic in horses?
Colic is defined as abdominal pain. It could be associated with any organ in the abdominal cavity. Generally, it refers to pain originating from the digestive tract. Colic is one of the most common causes of emergency treatment in horses. It also is the leading disease cause of death in horses.
What causes it?
Causes are many and are classified according to the contributory causes, disease present and the location in the gastrointestinal tract where the problem occurs. Examples include: ileus from intestinal spasms, gas colic resulting from nonstructural carbohydrates (starch and sugars) overloading the small intestine, obstructive colic which may be an impaction of the small or large intestine, enteritis or colitis which is inflammation of the small or large intestine, displacement, strangulation and gastric or intestinal ulcers.
What are contributory factors? (Excluding parasites)
- Starch overload. The feeding of cereal grains with high levels of starch that exceed the capacity of the small intestine’s ability to enzymatically break down starch and sugars, undigested starch and sugars that reach the cecum create acidosis which result in gas production, death of fibrolytic bacteria, rapid multiplication of pathogenic bacteria, destruction of the intestinal mucosa and the absorption of toxins. Gas production can contribute to displacement of the colon and strangulation. The amount of feed presented to the horse, the starch level in the feed, the source of the starch, the processing of the feed and the rate of intake are factors that can contribute. There are individual differences among horses but starch levels should not exceed 0.2% of body weight per meal.
- Impaction – This occurs within the lumen of intestine and may be associated with poor quality hay, lack of water consumption, large meal size, poor dental function and feeding high levels of starch. It is recommended not to exceed 0.5% of bodyweight per meal on the concentrate fed.
- Lack of forage – Forage should be available free choice preferably but should be fed at 1.5 – 2% of body weight per day.
- Pasture – Lack of access to pasture can be a contributory factor. Grass contains 70%+ moisture and the grazing process allows for exercise and trickle consumption.
- Change of diet – Changing hay or feed should be done gradually to allow the microflora to adapt. Sudden abrupt changes in feed or hay can be contributory factors.
- Feeding management practices – if possible feed individually. Competitive group feeding can cause horses to ingest too much and too rapidly. If horses are fed in groups use feeders that are spread out.
- Feeding routine should be consistent. Try and space the meals out and not feed meals close together.
- Feeding routine should have hay put out first before the feed. This will slow feed intake which is desirable.
- Avoid moldy feed and hay. Feed and hay should be stored properly and should be examined for the presence of mold.
- Inadequate water consumption is a contributory factor. Fresh clean water should be readily available at all times.
- Free choice salt preferably in loose form.
- Avoid alfalfa hay with blister beetles, black walnut shavings as bedding. Feeding management should address the prevention of sand ingestion where sandy soils occur.
Content provided by: Dr. Jim Ward, DVM, Equine Management Consultant, Cargill, Inc.
A couple weeks ago, I transitioned a large breeding farm from textured feed to pellets. Despite the farm manager’s reluctance, the feed program was changed. The horses were doing well and everyone seemed pleased.
Late one afternoon I received a frantic call from the farm manager. She said some of the horses were drooling and acting strange. She said they had just been fed an hour earlier and “it must be the pellets”. It sounded like possible choke issues.
I reviewed the feeding procedures with the manager, and she had fed hay prior to the concentrate. I suggested she keep a close watch on the horses and contact their veterinarian. About an hour later the manager called me again and said the choke issues had subsided, but now a few of the horses were presenting colic symptoms. She was awaiting the veterinarian, and again stressed “It must be the pellets”.
The veterinarian treated the horses, questioning water consumption, and feed changes. The manager called me to tell me that all seemed quiet. I encouraged her to keep me advised of any changes. A few hours later I received a call that two horses were on their way to the veterinary hospital. This time the manager did not hold back about her concern with the pellets.
The next morning I called the farm manager to check on the horses. She told me that both mares had colic surgery. I asked if the veterinarian had determined the cause, and was surprised by the answer. For the past few days the horses were not getting turned out due to the cold weather. While inside the horses did not receive any additonal hay to compensate for the round bales they consumed during turnout. With the lack of chew time and boredom, the horses had eaten their pelleted bedding, which had in turn caused the colic.
Today’s lesson: Feeding 1 ½ to 2% of a horses body weight per day in forage really is essential for a healthy horse!