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Colic In Horses

16-Apr-2013 | Contributed by: JJ McConnachie

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Colic in Horses

Colic in horses: there are many reasons for a horse to roll on the ground, but if the rolling is accompanied with other signs of colic, it’s time to call the vet.

What is colic in horses?

Equine colic is simply a pain in the abdomen of a horse. It is a concern, because if horses with colic are left untreated it can lead to the need for surgery, or even to the death of the horse.

What causes colic?

There are a number of causes, and unfortunately most horses will suffer from it at some stage. Equine colic can be diet related, or simply be due to a change in their conditions. It can be brought on by a horse eating their feed too quickly, or a change in their diet. Changes in their exercise or stable are also considered to be causes of colic.

Signs and symptoms of colic

There are many symptoms of colic, and it is important to keep track of when each symptom starts, and keep a record of it’s progress so you can give the vet as much information as possible. Symptoms of colic include:

  • restlessness
  • kicking or biting their abdomen
  • flank watching – looking at their abdomen
  • pawing at the ground
  • curling the upper lip
  • grinding teeth
  • sweating
  • circling
  • rolling
  • being unable to stand
  • sitting down on the hind legs
  • lying on their back
  • rapid breathing
  • a high heart rate
  • red gums and eyes

Perhaps the most well known symptom of colic is rolling. There has been quite a bit of debate about this symptom however, as some believe that a rolling horse can indicate a twisted intestine, while others believe that the rolling can actually cause the twisted intestine. Either way, rolling is an indicator of more serious colic.

Of course horses roll for many reasons, so it is important to keep an eye out for the other symptoms of colic to make sure that the horse isn’t merely having a scratch. If the rolling is persistent, and accompanied by symptoms like flank watching, sweating, pawing or other signs of discomfort, you are most likely looking at colic.

How to prevent colic

Most horses will get colic at some point, but there are steps you can take to prevent it.

Only feed your horse what it needs, and avoid any sudden changes in diet. Any changes should be introduced slowly and keeping their feed small and often will help.

You can help prevent the ingestion of parasites that can cause colic by removing manure from fields, and make sure you deworm your horses regularly to kill any parasites that do enter their system. You should also avoid putting feed on the ground as sand in the soil can cause colic.

In addition, ensuring that your horse gets regular exercise is key, as horses who spend most of their time in a stall are more likely to get colic.

What to do if your horse has colic

Equine veterinarian Louisa Gleeson of Wairarapa Equine believes that for certain types of colic, including some types of impaction colic, spasmodic colic, and some entrapments, walking helps the horse. There is no form of colic it is bad for, therefore walking your horse should be considered the first type of at home treatment for your horse.

However, she also explains that it is important to recognize that when a horse is in too much pain walking them could be dangerous for you and for them. If you are concerned that the horse is going to go down and injure itself or you, then the best cause of action is to ensure that the horse is placed somewhere safe with all hazards removed.

In addition, colic is something that can quickly get worse and become a crisis. Gleeson recommends all horse owners to have an action plan in place, just in case. Make sure you know:

  • how you would transport the horse
  • if you would want to do surgery if needed
  • how you would afford surgery if needed

It is also important to check your mortality cover plan if you have one for your horse as if it gets put down for something that may have been treatable with surgery, then you may not be covered.

More tips on dealing with equine colic:

  • Remove hay and feed (but not water).
  • Walk your horse for brief periods every half hour, as long as it is safe to do so.
  • Take the horse’s temperature, pulse and breathing rate every half hour and keep a record.
  • If the horse is rolling, lying on their back, or unable to stand, call your vet immediately.
  • Once the horse is better, keep an eye on him for a few days as colic can reoccur.

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