Colic causes abdominal pain in horses. If horse owners suspect that their horse has colic, they should schedule the assistance of a veterinarian to treat it at once. Most cases of colic can be managed; however, if left untreated, the horse’s symptoms will worsen and even become fatal.

What Is Colic?

Colic in horses is an abdominal pain symptom stemming from different causes. The most common causes include:

  • gas from high sugar intake like spring grass
  • grain overload from overfeeding or your horse breaking into the feed room/tubs
  • impaction from undigested feed
  • sand ingestion from being fed on the ground with sandy soil
  • parasite infestation

Early Warning Signs That Your Horse Has Colic

Horses that get colic face a painful set of challenges. Signs that your horse may have colic range from loss of appetite or lethargy. If your horse seems anxious and uncomfortable, moving in circles, kicking and looking at their flank, these are all signs of colic and that your horse is in pain and trying to find relief.

Other Signs of Colic Include:

  • Dog-sitting
  • Rolling onto back
  • Visible abdominal distention
  • Decreased manure production
  • Groaning
  • Depression
  • Looking at flank
  • Lifting or curling upper lip
  • Sweating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Loss of appetite

Treating Colic in Horses

One standard practice to diagnose and treat colic in horses is nasogastric intubation. This long tube passes through the nostril, making its way through the esophagus and into the stomach. This procedure helps relieve excess fluid and gas and any obstructions potentially causing the horse’s pain.

Horses receive anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) for pain management in many colic cases. The protocol will vary depending on the type of colic the horse has.

Your veterinarian may try less invasive treatment, including an oral rehydration session with IVs, IV pain relief, or muscle relaxants.

Surgical options may be a necessary intervention in extreme colic cases. Procedures and approaches will vary. Your equine surgeon may perform any of the following operations:

  • Corrective surgery for displaced intestines
  • Intraluminal obstructions removal
  • Resectioning of necrotic intestines

Preventing colic isn’t guaranteed, but you can certainly take steps to reduce your horse’s risk of developing it.

Daily Care To Help Reduce Colic:

Fresh Water

Mornings should start with fresh, clean water and feedings. Horses need access to fresh water 24/7 to stay hydrated and reduce the risk of colic.

Pasture Time

Full-time housing will impact the health of your horse. If possible, your horse should have hours of pasture access daily to help reduce the risk of colic. Consult your veterinarian if you’re transitioning your horse to a new pasture. The veterinarian can advise you on how long to ideally turn your horse out while increasing the time out in the pasture every day until they are acclimated.

Colic prevention aside, when full-time boarding your horse with limited or no pasture access you’ll need to make alternative arrangements for exercise, such as riding time, hand-walking, or limited turnout even if it’s a small pen. Regular exercise is crucial for the horse’s mental, emotional and physical health.

Overgrazed pastures can also put horses at risk since they can ingest an excess of sand. If too much sand is ingested, horses may develop problems in their GI tracts.

Coordinate with your stable staff regarding and a routine feeding schedule, turnout and grazing management. Ensure that your horse is getting good-quality forage that is not dusty or moldy. You can also consider a slow feeder to keep your horse stimulated for more extended periods.

Dental Care and Parasite Management

Talk with an equine veterinarian to formulate a plan for routine dental care and parasite management to keep your horse in tip-top shape. Dental and parasite care will help reduce colic.

Pay attention to signs of colic and changes in your horse’s behavior. With proactive, routine care, you can optimize your horse’s performance and help them live a long, healthy and happy life.

For more guidance on helping your horse live its best life, visit Vetster blog.