Dear Dr. Vittoria: My donkey colicked for the first time, and the vet said it was an impaction colic. She explained that Cookie must not have kept up drinking during the recent weather change. What can I do to help her this winter?

- Donkey Dad



Dear Donkey Dad: Your vet is right that horses seem to forget to drink when the weather turns cold. It doesn't seem appetizing to drink cold water when the temperatures drop. Not drinking enough causes the intestines to get a little dry, and the ingesta inside slow down. Normally, they keep moving the food from the front door to the back door. Suddenly you have a perfect situation to create a traffic jam of manure in the colon.

When this impacts in the pelvic flexure, we vets can feel it rectally. This is why we do a rectal examination with every colic. It helps us tell the manure characteristic and also feel the other loops of intestines.

It's important to recognize these severe changes in temperature and adjust the feeding and watering of your horses. Heated water buckets can keep the water from freezing and encourage horses to drink despite the weather. People often think the heated bucket will keep the water warm. That isn't the case.

Heated water buckets only prevent the water from freezing over. Still this is quite a treat for a horse that is used to having to break ice to get a drink.

If you don't have electricity at your barn, you can always bring very hot water in a Thermos to add to her bucket. This can make a really nice, warm drink for your chilled donkey. My horse, Jake, once drank 5 gallons at one time when I added warm water to his buckets in the winter.

Adding salt or electrolytes to your donkey's food or sprinkling it on her hay can encourage drinking. When you eat a bunch of salty food, you often drink a lot of water. We were taught in vet school that wherever salt goes, water soon follows.

Some of my clients like to make hot bran mashes when the nights are really cold. They add salt or electrolytes to the mash along with straight bran and some grain. Some horses like a little molasses added. Carrots, apples and candy canes can't hurt, either.

Blankets help a horse stay warm during the cold days. Make sure your blanket is waterproof, otherwise it could be very cold and not helpful at all.

There are ways to help your horses walk around in the winter, too. Just like Yak Tracks that you slip over your shoes to gain traction in the snow, you can get studs built into the horseshoes and snow pads to pop the snowballs out of the hoof. Old horses can be put on pain medicine such as Bute or Equioxx to help with arthritis, or ask your vet about a more natural supplement such as Pentosan.

Christina Vittoria, D.V.M., practices equine, small ruminant, and companion animal medicine at Willow Creek Veterinary Center. Comments offered here are for educational purposes only. Readers should consult their veterinarian before taking action. Have a question for Dr. Vittoria? Send it to country@readingeagle.com. Please put ASK THE VET in the subject line.