If you are a horse owner you will at one point most likely encounter an episode of colic with your horse. Maybe its the high temperatures and high humidity but it seems to be a high number of colic cases especially in my older patients recently.

Colic can range from mild to severe, but it should never be ignored. Many of the conditions that cause colic can become life-threatening in a relatively short period of time, therefore by quickly and accurately recognizing colic — and seeking qualified veterinary help — can the chance for recovery be maximized.


A major problem for you as a horse owner is identifying the signs of colic, among the more common signs are:

•Turning the head toward the flank


•Kicking or biting at the abdomen

•Stretching out as if to urinate without doing so

•Repeatedly lying down and getting up or attempting to do so

•Rolling, especially violent rolling

•Sitting in a dog-like position, or lying on the back

•Lack of appetite (anorexia)

•Putting head down to water without drinking

•Lack of bowel movements, as evidenced by the small number of manure piles

•Absence of, or reduced, digestive sounds


•Rapid respiration and/or flared nostrils

•Elevated pulse rate (greater than 52 beats per minute)


•Lip curling (Flehmen response)


Time is perhaps the most critical factor if colic is to be successfully treated. While a number of cases resolve without medical intervention, a significant percentage do require prompt medical care, including emergency surgery. If you suspect your horse is suffering from colic, the following is suggested:

1. Remove all food and water.

2. Notify your veterinarian immediately.

3. Be prepared to provide the following specific information:

•Pulse rate

•Respiratory rate (breathing)

•Rectal temperature

•Color of mucous membranes

•Capillary refill time (tested by pressing on gums adjacent to teeth, releasing, then counting the seconds it takes for color to return)

•Behavioral signs, such as pawing, kicking, rolling, depression, etc.

•Digestive noises, or lack of them

•Bowel movements, including color, consistency and frequency

•Any recent changes in management, feeding, or exercise

•Medical history, including deworming and any past episodes of abdominal pain

•Breeding history and pregnancy status if the patient is a mare, and recent breeding history if the patient is a stallion

•Insurance status and value of the horse (NOTE: The insurance carrier should be notified if surgery or euthanasia is being considered).

4. Keep horse as calm and comfortable as possible. Allow the animal to lie down if it appears to be resting and is not at risk of injury.

5. If the horse is rolling or behaving violently, attempt to walk the horse slowly.

6. Do not administer drugs unless specifically directed to do so by your equine practitioner. Drugs may camouflage problems and interfere with accurate diagnosis.

7. Follow your veterinarian’s advice exactly and await his or her arrival.


Your equine practitioner will establish the severity of the colic and identify its cause. His or her examination and/or treatment may include the following procedures:

•Observation of such signs as sweating, abdominal distension (bloating), rapid breathing, flared nostrils, and abnormal behavior

•Obtaining an accurate history

•Passage of a stomach tube to determine presence of excess gas, fluids, and ingesta

•Monitoring vital signs, including temperature, pulse, respiration (TPR), color of the mucous membranes, and capillary refill time

•Rectal palpation for evidence of intestinal blockage, distension, or other abnormalities

•Blood test for white cell count and other data

•Abdominal tap in order to evaluate protein level and cell type in the peritoneal fluid

•Analgesics or sedatives to relieve pain and distress

•Laxatives to help reestablish normal intestinal function

•Continued observation to determine response to treatment




Preventing colic as careful as we may be as owners isn’t always possible. Sometimes the most cared for horses still suffer from abdominal upset. Paying careful consideration to your horses food and water supply, exercise activity. medications, and environmental conditions on a daily basis is important to maintain a healthy gut. If colic should occur it is always safer to be cautious and immediately call your vet even if signs seem minor.

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