Colic is a general term that refers to abdominal pain in horses. Severity of colic can range from mild to fatal. The symptoms tend to vary from horse to horse but can worsen depending on the cause and degree of colic. Regardless, a veterinarian should be consulted at the first signs of colic, as this condition worsens with time.
Abdominal pain in horses can have many causes, similarly to humans. However, most cases of colic are caused by disruptions in the gastrointestinal tract. These disruptions can include: impaction, gas, spasms, displacement or “twisted gut,” enteritis/colitis, or distention/rupture. Additionally, colic can be caused by other body systems such as complications with the reproductive system, urinary system, respiratory system, musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system, or nervous system. Any sign of colic is cause for concern and a vet should be contacted immediately to run diagnostic tests and determine the cause of discomfort in the horse.
The signs and symptoms of colic can include a few or all of the following:
Because colic becomes worse and more life-threatening over time, it is extremely important to contact your vet as soon as possible. This is especially true if your horse is behaving violently, which can be an indication of a severe problem.
While waiting for your vet to arrive, there are some simple observations that you can make in order to help your vet assess the situation. First, take note of the horse’s respiratory rate as well as their temperature and pulse. Under normal circumstances, a horse’s respiratory rate should be around 12-16 breaths per minute, temperature around 99-100º F (37-38º C), and pulse 28-40 beats per minute. Due the stress of colic, it is common for these vital signs to be abnormal. Second, try to recall how your horse’s appetite and water intake have been for the past few days as well as the frequency and consistency of defecation. It is also important to recollect any medications that your horse is taking, if they have had any dietary changes, or if they had access to any foreign materials/food. Finally, be sure to hold all food until otherwise stated by your vet.
Additionally, walking the horse can be a good distraction from the pain, but they should not be walked to exhaustion. Avoid administering any pain medications because they can mask the symptoms from your vet. Once your vet arrives give them a detailed description of all your observations.
Some horses are more genetically predisposed to developing colic than others. Additionally, certain circumstances can increase the likelihood of colic and those horses at greater risk should be carefully monitored. Some of these include active horses that are recently stabled and stabled horses in intense training. General guidelines to follow to prevent colic include:
Boulton, DVM, Elizabeth. "Colic." American College of Veterinary Surgeons. ACVS, 30May2008. Web. 10 Jan 2012. <http://www.acvs.org/AnimalOwners/HealthConditions/LargeAnimalEquineTopics/Colic/>.
Douglas, Dr. Janet. "The Colic Fact Sheet." Equusite.com. Cheryl McNamee-Sutor, 06Nov2000. Web. 10 Jan 2012.<http://www.equusite.com/articles/health/healthColicFacts.shtml>.