Signs, symptoms and prevention of colic


Did you know that colic among domestic horses is the leading cause of premature death?

I was reading up on ways to spot, prevent, and help correct Colic as I’m always researching something and learning new ways to help horses.

So I wanted to pass on a few of the tips I came across.

Colic is actually a general term for abdominal pain, it can have a variety of causes and can affect horses of all ages.

Most cases turn out to be gastrointestinal in origin but can also originate in other organs, such as the kidneys, liver or spleen.

Luckily, most incidences of colic pass quickly, with little intervention.

But at other time it can become life-threatening and require hospitalization and surgery.

Because of this, if you feel your horse might have colic call your vet immediately to discuss the symptoms.

Here are some signs and symptoms of colic:

1. Your horse is “sucked up”, meaning you see his stomach is tight and higher than normal.

2. You listen to your horse’s gut and can’t hear any “grumbling”, gut sounds.

3. You can see that your horse isn’t feeling well and he is slower and lethargic.

4. Your horse is not eating normally and shows a loss of appetite

5. You notice that he hasn’t had a normal bowel movement in a while. Or there is a drastic reduction in the manure that you normally find in his stall. Or the manure is much smaller, tighter than normal.

6. Your horse lies down and doesn’t want to get up and shows signs of pain.

7. Your horse thrashes and rolls on the ground showing signs of pain.

8. Your horse is restless, seems irritated, and is pawing at the ground.

9. Your horse is sweating and has an increased breathing rate.

10. You notice he is irritated and kicking at his stomach or looking at his flank as if something is wrong.

11. Your horse stretches out far as if to urinate, but doesn’t.

12. You notice an elevated pulse rate and temperature.

13. Your horse is lying down, getting up, circling, laying down again and doing this repeatedly

14. Your horse curls/lifts his upper lip and groans

15. You notice your horse’s gums are much darker than normal

Now I know that seems like a shopping list but you know your horse so just compare that list to how he or she normally acts.

TIP: When you speak with your vet, ask him if he has any suggestions you might try before he arrives.

Here are a few suggestions (from Dr. Anthony Blikslager, DMV) to help prevent colic:

1. Managing feeding, forage type and quality, meal frequency, parasite control, housing/stalling, etc. is the best way to prevent colic.

2. Horses pass approximately 150 liters (40 gallons) of fluid through their gastrointestinal tract each day. So, meal feeding, and access to water in particular, can cause massive fluid fluxes through their digestive tract.

These fluxes can essentially dehydrate and rehydrate the horse’s large intestine repeatedly, which can put horses at risk of colon impaction.

So, making sure that your horse is drinking lots of water is important to keep their digestion flowing naturally.

3. Food travels 20 meters (about 65 feet) through the horse’s stomach and small intestine and into the cecum and large colon within two to three hours.

This means concentrate feeds enter the colon relatively undigested and can trigger gastrointestinal changes as well.

So, be careful not to change your horse’s feed quickly or give him too much concentrated feed too often.

4. Supplements can help prevent colic as well.

Psyllium is a popular daily supplement for preventing sand colic in horses that graze on sandy soils.

It is intended to reduce sand levels in the gut, but Dr. Blikslager reported that it might actually act more like a prebiotic, which helps the horse’s digestion.

It is also helpful to add flax seed oil to grain or supplements your horse receives on a monthly or quarterly basis. Keep track of what his normal manure looks like and if it gets dry and hard, give your horse some flax seed oil.

5. Try to feed your horse his normal rations of food, for your horse’s weight management, at about the same time every day.

When you are late for a feeding the stress of not getting breakfast or dinner, can affect a horse’s digestive system and cause constrictions.

6. Restrict access to simple carbohydrates including sugars from feeds with excessive molasses.

7. Provide clean feed and drinking water


8. Carry out regular deworming and dental care.

9. Horses that eat their feed very quickly are also at risk.

10. Regular daily turnout for a few hours is also thought to reduce the likelihood of colic.

I hope you never have to go through an attack of colic with your horse, but if you know the signs and symptoms and can spot it early, you may be able to prevent further damage and resolve the problem quicker.

Also, knowing ways to prevent colic will help your odds of never having the problem.

I’d love to read your Comments below – thanks!

Good luck!

Please Share

  • Thankyou, i prey it never happens to our pony. But appreciate you sharing your knowledge. Cheers Regina

  • Mary Carr says:

    I really love your help and hints, THANK YOU

  • Sue Rutland says:

    I always have homeopathic colocynthis 30, and belladonna handy it really helps…

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