What Is Colic In Horses?

Colic is an umbrella term we use to define abdominal pain in horses.

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Colic can have several different causes, some more serious than others. Horses will respond to abdominal pain in different ways to try and relieve their discomfort.

What Is Normal?

  • Mucous membranes pale pink in colour
  • Heart rate 28-44 bpm
  • Respiratory rate 8-16 bpm
  • Temperature 37.5-38.3

Symptoms Of Colic In Horses

Horses display abdominal pain in their own individual way. These symptoms can broadly be categorised depending on the severity of the abdominal pain:

Risk Factors

  • Prolonged periods of box rest or inactivity increase the risk of impaction colic
  • Sudden changes in feeding regimes can negatively affect the gut flora
  • Introducing new lush grazing pasture can increase the risk of a gassy colic
  • Older horses are more at risk of strangulating lipomas, which are essentially balls of fat connected by tissue that can wrap themselves around pieces of small intestines
  • Very large round worm burdens can cause obstructions in the small intestines
  • Large tapeworm burdens can cause an obstruction where the small intestines and caecum meet
  • Inadequate routine dental care can increase the risk of impaction colic

Colic Myths

Horses with colic can be very distressed and uncomfortable, often lying down or rolling to try and alleviate their discomfort. The act of rolling will not cause ‘twisting of the guts’ and is equally as likely to help ‘untwist’ any displaced intestines. Horses that ‘go down’ suddenly on a hard-concrete surface could cause a fluid distended stomach to rupture.

Horses trying to lie down, and roll should be allowed to do so on a soft surface in an open space, such as a ménage or sand school. Remember your personal safety is the most important thing, especially around a distressed horse.

What To Do If You Suspect Colic In Your Horse

If you suspect your horse is displaying symptoms of colic, you should seek veterinary advice. Ensure your horse does not eat anything further (but allow them access to water). Walking horses gently in a ménage can help take their mind off of their abdominal discomfort, although horses should not be forced to walk if they are not willing. Ensure someone remains with the horse in a safe environment to monitor how the colic symptoms progress. Remember to look out for the veterinary surgeon travelling to examine your horse and provide them with good directions to the yard

Out of hours emergency

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