Colic in horses is not a diagnosis instead a broad term used to describe the signs of abdominal pain. This simple term can strike fear into horse owners as colic is one of the most common causes of death in horses. The severity of colic can range from mild which may resolve itself or serve and life-threatening that requires medical intervention and possibly surgery. Colic does not discriminate, it can affect any horse, any age, breed or size.
As a horse owner it is vital to know the signs of colic. The signs will vary from case to case and can change as the condition progresses. Some horses may display a number of symptoms and others may display only one or two. Signs of colic to be aware of include;
- Pawing at the ground
- Looking or kicking at at the stomach/flank
- Rolling or lying down or getting up and down repeatedly
- Playing in water bucket, splashing but not drinking
- Grinding teeth
- Rapid breathing and/or Increased heart rate
- Decreased gut sounds or lack of normal gut sounds
- Depression or lethargy
- Loss of appetite
- Not passing faeces
There are a number of different types of colic varying in their severity. A veterinarian will be able to determine the type of colic after examination and then decide on the best course of treatment. Types of colic include;
- Gas colic, where there is an excess buildup of fluid or gas in the gut.
- Spasmodic colic occurs when there is increased abdominal contractions or spasms.
- Impaction colic is when a blockage forms in the colon usually of feed, sand, dirt or other indigestible materials.
- Torsion colic (twisted gut) where there is a twist in the intestines causing a complete blockage.
- Colitis or enteritis is inflammation in the small (enteritis) or large (colitis) intestines.
- Gastric distension/rupture: occurs when the horse gorges on food or eats food that then swells in the stomach causing the stomach to expand and possible burst.
If you ever think your horse is suffering from colic you need to contact your veterinarian immediately. A case of colic, especially when severe, requires immediate treatment and can develop quickly into an emergency situation. Always contact your veterinarian if you see any signs or symptoms of colic or if you have any health concerns with your horse.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 14.
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