Equestrian Blog

News and thoughts from around the equestrian community

Horse Colic

My previous blog regarding Laminitis proved popular with many readers. Having experienced laminitis first hand, some felt compelled to respond to the blog, and their stories and advice were both appreciated and helpful. These replies have led me to write again about an illness which I'm sure even more of us have dealt with at some time; Colic.  This illness can vary vastly in its severity but is always a cause for great concern to the horse owner. In its most basic form colic is the veterinary term for the symptoms of abdominal pain in horses, this is most often caused by distention of the intestine.
The horse's digestive system is very complex, it is designed to process small amounts of food frequently, when living in the wild this creates few digestive problems. The way we require our domesticated horses to live and work means they often need more than just grass to meet their dietary needs. Our busy schedules can also make it difficult to allow horses access to small amounts of food repeatedly, instead he is often fed a large amount of hay, often only once or twice a day.
Colic is a descriptive term for the symptoms a horse suffers when in pain from his abdominal tract. Depending on the severity of the colic, behaviour can vary greatly. Any colic though should always be treated as an emergency and veterinary advice should be sought immediately. Common symptoms include
  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Limited or no droppings being passed
  3. Turning to look at belly area
  4. Persistant rolling
  5. Constantly lying down and getting back to their feet again
  6. Kicking at stomach
  7. Shivering
  8. Sweating
  9. Abnormal temperature, fast breathing and heart rate
  10. Excessive urination
 If you suspect your horse has colic, try to make him as comfortable as possible whilst waiting for the vet to arrive, remove all food and try to put him somewhere that is safe if he decides to roll, so he won't cause further injury to himself or you. Be careful to keep yourself safe as a horse in pain can become unpredictable. Prevention is always better than cure, and this is certainly true of colic. Here are some tips for helping to prevent colic from occuring
  1. Feed a well balanced diet containing plenty of fibre to promote good gut mobility.
  2. Ensure any changes in diet are made gradually; enabling the horse's gut to become accustomed to the new feed slowly.
  3. Use only good quality feed which has been stored in a vermin proof container.
  4. Ensure all feed is locked away to prevent horses gorging if they escape from their field or stable.
  5. Adhere to an effective worming programme, this will reduce the risk of damage to the digestive system which would make a horse more susceptible to colic.
  6. Introduce any changes in your horse's workload gradually and ensure you thoroughly warm up and cool down your horse.
  7. Regularly have your horse's teeth checked by a qualified technician to ensure he can chew food effectively.
  8. Maintain a routine to your horse's lifestyle, keep his diet, exercise and turnout as regular as possible.
  9. Keep all buckets, feed containers and your horse's stable clean.
Colic can be a fatal condition so always consult your vet, giving as much detail as possible. They will then be able to determine whether the case is serious enough to need a visit. If you are at all worried though that it is not just a mild colic, request they come out anyway. The call out fee will be well worth it to put your mind at ease. It is also advisable to check the small print on your horse's insurance policy to ensure colic surgery is covered, as this can be a very complicated, expensive procedure. With good equine management, colic is unllikely to occur but always seek veterinary assistance at the earliet signs to ensure your horse's best recovery.

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