What Is Colic?
Colic is a painful problem in your horse’s abdomen. It can be due to something as simple as a gut spasm from a change in diet or routine or as serious as twisting a part of the intestine.
Because colic can be unpredictable and potentially life-threatening, it’s a serious concern for horse owners. Horses are naturally prone to colic, but thankfully the majority of horses experiencing colic respond well to treatment on the farm.
Our veterinarians know how delicate these situations are and we are ready to respond any time of the day or night.
Emergency Care For Colic
If your horse is showing signs of colic, there's no time to waste. Contact us at the first sign of distress. We are always ready to provide emergency and urgent care.
While colic is common in horses and can often be relatively mild, it is important to know what you're dealing with in case your horse needs life-saving medical care. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get about colic.
How can I prevent colic?
Every colic is unique so this is a very difficult question to answer. But generally, here are a number of things you can do to prevent the likelihood of colic:
- Always have fresh, clean water available to your horse. In colder weather opt for warm water if possible to encourage drinking.
- Limit changes in feed. Make all changes as gradually as possibly, including from one batch of hay to the next.
- Use quality forage and avoid round bales.
- Feed a daily pre-biotic containing saccharomyces, especially during times of feed change.
- Avoid feeding hay on the ground in sandy areas.
- Learn to recognize the first signs of colic.
- Get your horse's teeth examined every six months to a year.
- Get your horse on a proper parasite control regiment.
- Keep a watchful eye on broodmares and horses who have coliced in the past.
- Do not administer medications such as Banamine, Bute or antibiotics without prior discussion with your veterinarian.
All of these preventive measures should help reduce the risk of colic in your horse, but be mindful that some cases of colic are neither preventable nor predictable.
What are the signs of colic in horses?
There are a number of signs that can indicate colic in horses. If you see your horse exhibiting any of the the following signs, contact our vets right away.
- Frequently looking at their side
- Biting or kicking their flank or belly
- Lying down and/or rolling
- Little or no passing of manure
- Passing dry or mucus (slime)-covered manure
- Poor eating behavior, may not eat all their grain or hay
- Change in drinking behavior
- Heart rate over 45 to 50 beats per minute
- Tacky gums
- Long capillary refill time
- Off-colored mucous membranes
What can cause colic in horses?
Horses may colic for a wide variety of reasons, depending on a number of factors and predispositions, such as age and lifestyle. For example, a geriatric horse is more likely to colic due to a mass causing strangulation of the intestines, which leads to a blockage of the gastrointestinal tract. Young horses are more likely to colic due to an impaction from worms if they have not been dewormed appropriately.
- Changes in diet (grain or hay)
- Changes in routine or exercise
- Weather changes
- Geriatric horses
- Young horses
- High parasite infestation
- Sand ingestion
- High grain diets/low forage
- Long periods between forage/feeding
- Decrease in water intake
- Dental issues
- Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
What can I do if I think my horse has colic?
The first thing you're going to do is check their stall to see if the amount of manure is normal or reduced. Next, you will want to check your horse's heart rate and temperature to see if they are elevated, and then call our veterinary team and report their symptoms.
You will need to remove all food and forage from your horse and closely monitor them until the vet arrives. Don't leave them alone because their clinical signs can worsen in a very short period of time. Light hand-walking (10-15 min at a time) may help alleviate some discomfort. Do not keep walking to the point of fatigue.
Please do not administer any medication unless advised by a veterinarian. Some medication may be harmful or mask the condition, making it more challenging for your veterinarian to make a diagnosis.
What is sand colic?
Horses who graze on loose, sandy soil are at risk of ingesting dirt and developing sand colic. The consequences of sand colic can range from very mild digestive upsets to impactions or twists, which can occur if large amounts of sand settle out of the ingesta and accumulate in the large intestine.
Please discuss the prevention of sand colic with your veterinarian. Consider having your veterinarian assess your horse's environment.
Treatment Process For When Horses Colic
Different types of colic require different treatments, so an accurate diagnosis is the first step. Some cases require urgent, aggressive treatment, either medical or surgical, if the horse's life is to be saved.
Cases of medical colic can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the type or source of colic. Treating dehydration, controlling pain, and reducing inflammation may be the primary focus of medical care.
In cases of surgical colic, the veterinary team will conduct a procedure known as an exploratory laparotomy during which the horse is put under general anesthesia. The surgical specialist opens the patient’s abdomen and thoroughly assesses all structures found in the abdominal cavity to determine what’s causing the pain. If possible, the surgeon will resolve the cause of colic—the type of surgical treatment depends on the type of colic. Once the incision is closed, the horse can then recover from the general anesthesia.
The post-surgical treatments vary case by case, but usually involve gradually reintroducing feed while providing supportive care.