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What is Colic?

Colic is a term used to describe abdominal pain and in horses normally relates to discomfort caused by the gastrointestinal tract.

There are over 70 different types of 'colic', ranging from mild clinical signs to severe or life threatening conditions.

Pain is caused by disruption to the GI tract caused by: intestinal spasms (cramps), the gut wall being stretched by gas of feed material, the blood supply to the gut being compromised or intestine becoming entrapped. Approximately 90% of colic can be managed with medical treatment, such as medications, with holding food and fluid therapy, meaning approximately only 10% of horses with colic signs require surgical intervention. Therefore early diagnosis and intervention is essential to give your horse the best prognosis.

Clinical signs of colic are:

R - restless or agitated
E - eating less or droppings reduced:
A - abdominal pain
C - clinical signs: increased heart rate and respiratory rate, change in gum colour, reduced or absent gut sounds and skin abrasions.
T - tired or lethargic

The award winning REACT NOW TO BEAT COLIC campaign has a very useful WEBSITE and this very helpful guide on how to spot the early signs of colic.

Occasionally there are some non-intestinal causes similar clinical signs to colic e.g. laminitis, where horses often lay down more to take the weight of their feet, or ovarian problems. This is known as false colic and can also be very serious.

How is colic treated?

Your vet will do a thorough clinical examination of your horse which may include a rectal examination and passing a tube into the stomach to build a clinical picture to determine if the colic can be managed medically or requires surgery.  

Treatment depends on the type of colic can include: pain relief, anti-spasmodic medications & fluid therapy. In cases horses may require referral to our equine hospital for further investigations, such as abdominal ultrasound and blood tests, which may lead to the decision of surgical intervention.

What should you do whilst waiting for the vet to arrive?

A horse with suspected colic should be seen by a vet as soon as possible.  Once arranged for a vet to come out, there are a few things you can do while waiting for them to arrive.  The most important thing to remember is to not put yourself in danger as horses can unintentionally injure those trying to help when they are in pain.

Once a vet is on their way, these following tips can help while you wait for them to arrive:

  • Remove all food
  • You can walk you horse for up to ten minutes if the clinical signs are mild, if you horse if trying to go down, do not attempt to stop them
  • If your horse is very uncomfortable, getting up and down or showing more severe signs of colic turning them out in a field or sand school can sometimes minimise any further injury as they are less likely to hurt themselves in an open area compared to a stable