Caring For Your Horse:
What is Colic?
Colic in horses is defined as abdominal pain. Many people mistake it as a syndrome, but it is actually a clinical sign rather than a diagnosis. The term colic can encompass all forms of gastrointestinal conditions which cause pain as well as other causes of abdominal pain not involving the gastrointestinal tract. The most common forms of colic are gastrointestinal in nature and are most often related to a disturbance in the colon, or the end of the large intestine of the horse. There are a variety of different causes of colic, some of which can be fatal without surgical intervention.
What are the common signs of colic?
- Pawing and/or scraping
- Frequent attempts to urinate
- Flank watching: turning of the head to watch the stomach and/or hind quarters
- Biting/nipping the stomach
- Repeated flehmen response (tilted head and curled upper lip, "horse laugh")
- Repeated lying down and rising
- Un-provoked gnashing/grinding of the teeth
- Excess salivation
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased manure production
- Increased pulse rate
- Dark mucous membranes or pale mucous membranes
How can I prevent colic?
24/7 SUPPLY OF FRESH CLEAN WATER - AMPLE QUALITY (not weeds) FORAGE - LOW STARCH FEEDS (avoid excess grain)
Additional Preventative Tips:
- Keep a regular feeding schedule. If a horse is receiving grain/feed it should be divided and fed evenly throughout the day, at the very least 2x/day and 8 hrs apart. Horses' intestines are built to process forage (hay, grass) 18-20 hrs a day. Consider providing slow feeders for hay or feeding out hay at least 3x/ day to keep things moving.
- Prevent the ingestion of dirt, sand, or parasites from manure by using a slightly elevated feeding surface, hoof and leg safe net/bag/hay feeder at chest level or rubber mat for feeding. Avoid feeding grain/feed on the bare ground, always feed from a dish or bucket.
- Rotationally de -worm or send fecal samples to your vet be evaluated for parasite infestation every 6-8 weeks
- Have your horses see a good equine dentist annually. If your vet doesn't offer the service he/she should be able to recommend someone who does. Never let someone who does not have veterinary credentials sedate your horse for dental work.
- Keep your horse on a regular diet that does not change substantially in content or proportion. Make changes slowly and gradually (over 1-2 weeks).
- Prevent heatstroke and dehydration by providing a cool shaded place, cool water (try ice cubes in buckets!) and a fan if necessary in excessive heat. In extreme cold add hot water to buckets to make water more inviting to drink and keep buckets free of floating ice.
- Manage horses that bolt their feed. Fist sized rocks or mineral blocks or special feeding tubs with irregular bottoms can be used to slow down aggressive eaters.
- Provide as much turnout as possible. More body movement equals better intestinal movement.
- Exercise caution turning horses out on lush grass in the spring and additionally in the fall when frosts cause the sugar content in grass to spike in the morning hours.
Great educational video on preventing winter colic - general principles apply to year round colic:
What should I do if I think my horse is colicing?
IMMEDIATELY START WALKING YOUR HORSE IF YOU CAN DO SO SAFELY AND TRY TO PREVENT ROLLING.
CALL YOUR VET EARLY ON.
Some potentially fatal colics, if caught early, can be very successfully treated, surgically or otherwise.
REMOVE ALL FEED UNTIL INSTRUCTED OTHERWISE BY YOUR VET.
MOVE YOUR HORSE TO A SAFE, LARGE AREA WITH SOFT GROUND IN CASE YOU CANNOT PREVENT ROLLING.
Make your horse comfortable by cool hosing if they are sweating and hot or blanketing if they are cold and shivering.
Lastly - KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS.
Colic surgery is very expensive and depending on what the contributing cause is, may not be useful, but your veterinarian still may want to try. To ensure that you are able to provide surgical care for your horse if wanted and appropriate, set aside at least $1000 to begin cost coverage or ensure that you have access to a line of credit that would cover costs.