A gassy pony can be more than a little awkward if you are in public, but it can also signal a variety of issues with your horse’s intestinal tract. Flatulence in horses is often a minor issue, but can also be a sign of gas colic, a more serious issue.
What causes horses to have excessive gas? Gas in horses is most often caused by diet, confinement, fast changes in feed, stress, ulcers, or colic. It is critical to assess whether your horse also has bloat or is in pain as these are signs of a more serious intestinal issue.
Let’s dive into what you should watch out for and what steps you can take to reduce the gassiness of your horse.
Understand The Difference Between A Gassy Horse, Bloat and Gas Colic
Horses can be gassy without bloating and they can bloat for more reasons than excessive gas. Usually, when a horse’s intestinal tract starts bloating, it causes pain to the horse. Gas colic refers to the pain horses experience due to excessive gas.
Horses don’t have the ability to burp. As a result, excessive gas can be hard for horses to expel. It can become a painful experience.
Gas alone doesn’t usually cause issues in horses. All horses can experience some gassiness from time to time.
But, it does become a concern when your horse bloats from the gas or experiences pain, discomfort, or other health symptoms.
Let’s cover what makes horse gas problematic and what signs you should watch for!
Bloat in Horses
Bloat occurs when a horse’s digestive systems build up gas that it can’t expel. Bloat can occur in the colon or the small intestines. It is very painful for horses and often causes colic.
Bloat can be visually seen as the horse’s abdomen will become larger just behind the ribs. Bloat is higher on the horse and appears in the flank area. If the stomach is sagging and drooping, that is not bloating but could be a sign of worms.
If your horse develops bloat, it’s usually serious and should be dealt with immediately. Bloat can cause damage to a horse’s stomach and intestines.
There are several causes of bloat in horses:
- Too much gas for the horse to expel usually referred to as gas colic
- A blockage in the digestive tract
Blockages can be caused by food that gets packed together and blocks part of the intestines. It can also be caused by the horse’s bowels becoming twisted and not allowing food to pass.
Excessive gas doesn’t usually cause any major issues.
A vet may prescribe a painkiller to help your horse relax and to pass the gas easier.
A blockage in the intestines will usually result in more severe pain. And, your horse may get a higher temperature, have a fast pulse, or breathe abnormally. Other serious signs include sweating, throwing herself to the ground violently, or a change in the color of the mucus membranes. Mucous membranes may become a pink color or a dark red color.
Intestinal blockages are more serious and can cause injury and illness to your horse. It’s important to seek the help of a vet if you see the other symptoms of a blockage.
- Racing heartbeat
- Higher temperature
- Abnormal breathing
- Mucous membranes change color to red or pink
- Exhibiting signs of deep distress such as throwing himself on the ground
Gas Colic in Horses
Gas colic can occur in accordance with bloat or without bloating. Excessive gas can cause pain, or in other words, colic.
There are several signs of gas colic which include:
- Stretching out as if to urinate
- Rolling around
- Increased breathing
- Pawing at the ground
- Looking at, or biting the flanks
Symptoms are not usually as severe if your horse has gas colic versus an obstruction in their intestines. A vet can accurately diagnose the issue and treat it accordingly.
Causes of Horse Gas
Horse gas can be caused by rich hay that doesn’t sit well or by changing your horse’s diet. Your horse depends heavily on the microflora in his colon. This microflora is what allows your horse to get nutrients and calories from grass.
Microflora is made up of good bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. It breaks the cellulose into carbohydrates and extracts nutrients.
But, microflora adjusts to the specific types of hay your horse eats. When his diet changes suddenly, it throws the flora off balance. It can also introduce a flood of bad bacteria to his gut.
That’s why it’s critical to make feeding changes over time.
Another cause of gassiness in horses is when owners limit foraging. Access to constant foraging helps to preserve good bacteria. When horses have constant access to foraging, they don’t overeat.
They are much more likely to nibble and eat in smaller doses. This keeps their gut healthy and strong. Overeating can cause hormones to be released, which can cause muscle spasms and upset their natural digestion.
Plus the stomach accumulates greater amounts of acid, which causes discomfort and causes your horse to over-eat. When he overeats, he won’t chew as well, and the food won’t be broken down as much. When unchewed food hits his colon and intestines, the flora will be disrupted.
Another cause of horse gas issues stems from inactivity. When horses are confined and unable to remain active, gas can’t be expelled as easily. This can intensify the problems caused by gassiness.
Stress can increase gas issues. Stress can be caused by a change in routine, diet, restriction of activity, among other things.
- Change in Diet
- Limited Access to Foraging
- Limited Activity – such as stall confinement
Consequences of Gas-Related Issues
There are many consequences of gassiness in horses. What gas becomes painful, it’s often a signal that something else is going wrong.
It’s a sign that there are also more serious consequences. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Twisted Bowel: is often fatal
How to Relieve Gas In Horses
If your horse suddenly has gas, first look at their diet. What has changed? Have you purchased a new feed lately? Or, had a major routine change? Feed changes are the most common cause of horse gassiness.
If you need to change feed, then start adjustments to your horse’s diet weeks before you run out of the existing feed. Over the course of at least a week, start adding the new feed to the old feed. Slowly increase the ratio of new feed to old feed until the new feed becomes the majority of their food.
Do this every time you change feed or purchase more hay.
If you also feed your horse commercial feed, then make sure to only feed him the commercial feed after he has eaten some hay. This will help the fortified feed to sit better in his stomach and will reduce gas issues.
Another cause of gas in horses in infrequent feedings of bran. Bran mashes should either be fed daily to horses or not at all. Weekly feedings will increase gas in horses.
Putting your horse out to pasture will also help with gassiness. The additional movement and exercise will make worlds of difference to your horse. Additionally, it decreases stress, and allows for natural grazing.
If you are unable to pasture your horse, try to provide at least regular pasture time. Even an extra hour or two a day will make a big difference.
Another step you can take for stable horses is to provide slow feeders. Slow feeders limit how quickly a horse can access food and provide more continuous feedings. It also decreases gorging.
Make sure your horse has 24-hour access to clean water. If you notice your horse having discomfort from gas, then walking him can help him to push the gas out and relieve the discomfort.
If the pain still persists, you will want to check with a vet to make sure more serious issues haven’t developed.
- Make diet changes slowly
- Revert to Oat Hay or Grass Hay if gas is excessive. From there slowly convert to other hays.
- Feed hay before providing commercial feed
- Pasture horses
- Allow continuous grazing
- Provide constant access to clean water
- Walk horses that are currently experiencing gas discomfort
Additional Supplements That Help With Gassiness
In addition to the steps above, there are several supplements that help to increase your horse’s gut health and decrease gas.
B Vitamins: B vitamins offer support for the digestive tract. They help to reduce stress and are helpful before any major changes in your horse’s routine.
Durvet Vitamin B for Farm Animals is a great supplement and you can get it off Amazon.
Probiotics and Yeast: Probiotics help to keep the microflora in your horse’s gut healthy and strong. They can also help to restore good bacteria when bad bacteria has overwhelmed your horse’s digestive system.
Probios is a great horse probiotic found on Amazon.
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