Wed. Oct 16th, 2019

What is horse colic – causes, symptoms and treatment

4 min read
grazing horse

A colicing horse is not pleasant, specially when you don’t know what to look for, what would cause it and what to do. I’ve seen many horse owners panic and not know where to begin when it comes colic.

Just recently, one of my great friends was visiting a local barn and one of the horse colic ed. The next morning, she called me traumatized asking why everyone at the barn was so panicked. What is horse colic? she asked. I explained that causes, symptoms and treatments to her. Then I clicked, not everyone knows about it. That is where I decided to share what I know about colic here. Hopefully, with sharing this information, I am able to help a horse and/or horse owner get through it .

What is horse colic?

Colic in horses is defined by abdominal pain. It means all forms of gastrointestinal conditions which cause pain and also other causes of abdominal pain that do not involve the gastrointestinal tract. The most common form of colic is gastrointestinal and is most often related to colonic disturbance.

What causes colic?

There are many causes for colic, some of which can fatal without surgery. A colic surgery can be very expensive due to it being a major abdominal surgery, that usually require intensive care after the surgery. Colic is the #1 cause of premature death amongst the domesticated horses.

Colic causes can be divided into several categories.

Excessive gas build-up (gas colic) is a mild accumulation of gas in the horse’s digestive tract. It is thought to be one of the most common cause of colic and may go away on its own or with a visit from your veterinarian.

Simple obstruction is a physical obstruction of the intestine, which can be due to impacted food material, stricture formation, or foreign bodies.

Strangulating obstruction is intussusceptions, torsion or volvulus, and displacement of intestine through a hole, such as a hernia, a mesenteric rent, or the epiploic foramen.

Non-strangulating infarction is infection with Strongylus vulgaris larvae, which primarily develop within the cranial mesenteric artery.

Inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract is inflammation to any portion of the GI tract may be due to infection, toxin, or trauma, and may require special treatment in order to resolve the colic.

Ulceration of the gastrointestinal mucosa is damage from stomach acid or alteration in protective mechanisms of the stomach, and is usually not life-threatening.

What do I look for?

When a horse has colic, you will notice a change in his behavior almost immediately. He may also exhibit some or even all of the following signs

  • Elevated body temperature: most commonly associated with medically managed colics
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated respiratory rate
  • Change in gum colon
  • Change in gut sounds
  • Pawing
  • Increased flank watching
    (turning of the head to look at the abdomen and/or hind quarters),
    nipping, biting, or kicking
  • Repeatedly lying down and rising, which may become violent when the colic is severe
  • Rolling, especially when not followed by shaking after standing, and
    which may become violent when the colic is severe
  • Sweating
  • lethargy, pacing, or a constant shifting of weight when standing
  • decreased fecal output or a change in consistency
  • Stretching, abnormal posturing, or frequent attempts to urinate
  • Groaning
  • Excess salivation
  • Excessive yawning
  • Loss of appetite
  • Poor coat or weight loss (chronic colic)

It is so important to get to know your horse. Getting to know his behavior and temperament as well as his tendencies will help you in recognizing these signs.

What do I do?

The first thing you should do when noticing any of the above symptoms is call your veterinarian. He will most likely advise you not to feed your horse until he passes manure and the colic resolves itself as it can cause further impacting. He may suggest walking your horse periodically to help motility. A little bit of fresh grass may help move things along, but only a very small amount. Checking your horse every 15 to 20 minutes is also very important because things can change in a short period of time. If you notice that the symptoms keep getting worst or your horse is getting more of the symptoms listed above, call your vet again and he may suggest taking your horse into the clinic for examination. At that point, your veterinary will decide on a treatment plan. Follow your veterinary advice to the T.

Attention is key

Paying attention to your horse is key to his health management, and when it comes to colic, paying attention is about as much as you can do. Staying calm and level-headed is the best thing. Don’t forget, horses pick up on our energy and if your panicked, he will be too.

Have you had any experiences with colic? I’d like to hear about it. Please leave me a message below!!

Happy Horsin Around


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