Signs of Colic in Horses

Signs of Colic in Horses
Practices and Methods

This is the leading cause of death in horses. Colic can come on very suddenly and often with little or no warning. There are several ways that colic can occur in horses. A horse can get colic from a change in diet that wasn’t gradually introduced. Even changing hay can cause colic. Colic can also be related to eating a low grade feed, stress and overwork.


Types of Colic

  • Tympanitic – Build up of gas due to fermentation in the gut.
  • Spasmodic – This is the migration of larvae.
  • Obstructive colic – Impactation of food or mechanical obstruction.
  • Twisted Gut – this is the deadliest type where the intestines twist causing a blockage.
  • Sand colic – happens due to sand being ingested with food, causing a blockage in the cecum.


Signs of Colic are basically the same except for the Tympanitic colic where gas is released. The signs of colic are as follows: Foot stomping, squatting, getting up and down, trying to roll, tail twitching, biting at the stomach, kicking at the stomach, sweating, shaking. Stallions also drop their penises without urinating. It is important is to stop your horse from rolling in his stall, because he can hurt himself by constantly rolling back and forth and he can actually cause a twist in his intestine.


Twisted Intestine

The signs of Tympanitic Colic are a bloated and distended belly, excessive gas and if you tap on his belly it sounds like a hollow drum, which indicates a large amount of air in the colon.


The first signs of colic can be no appetite; dehydration (a way to determine this is to check his feces, if it is hard and dry he is dehydrated), little or no manure and biting at his belly.


The second signs of colic are sweating, stands with legs under him while trying to urinate or pass feces. He starts wanting to roll and constantly gets up and down, sometimes acting like he is going down and doesn’t want to get up.


The third stage is all of the above plus kicking his stomach, pale gums. He could go into shock at this stage, which would mean you need to treat both problems.


What to do before the vet comes

Catching the colic during the first two stages is the best thing you can do to ensure that you can save the horse. It is imperative to get the horse on its feet if he is down. You do not want his intestines to get twisted. He may attempt to lay down, but do not let him. Keep him moving. Follow the directions that the vet gives when he is called. You may also try giving your horse ˝ cup of corn oil per 1000 lbs. Do not feed the horse!


Walk the horse. If he passes feces check to see the color and consistency. If it is a normal amount you can stop the constant walking, but continue to watch him for any further signs.


If it is a small amount or is very dry keep walking him. If he is sweating and it is cold out, blanket him. Dry him with towels so that he doesn’t start shivering. If he is sweating and it is hot out, cool him down with damp towels. You can listen to his stomach to see if you can hear movement or gurgling sounds. If not keep walking him. If you hear movement and he has passed enough manure, put him back in the stall and watch him for further signs of colic. DO NOT FEED HIM ANYTHING!!


Usually doing these things will be enough for the first two symptoms of colic, but if it has progressed to the third stage more care is needed. For this stage do all of the above and keep walking him till the vet arrives. The vet will take his temperature and his heart rate and give him a rectal exam. Good records are needed here and the vet will need specific information and a history of the horse. He will then proceed to act upon the symptoms and at what stage the horse is at.


The vet will administer medications that the horse may need. You should find out what treatment the vet uses for your records and so you will know what treatment was needed should this happen again. The vet might also choose to tube him. This means he will require warm water in a clean bucket. He will add mineral oil to the water and take a tube and put it down the nostril of the horse into the stomach. If everything goes right the mineral oil and water will go through the tube. If there is an impaction the mixture will come back up the tube with a dark color to it.


If there is an impaction, there may be little that can be done to save the horse. The only option at this point is surgery. For best results you would have to have surgery done within three hours of signs of colic. Surgery does not always work, in fact 50% of horses brought in for surgery for colic end up dying.


If your horse responds to any of the treatments above you can return him to his stall or an enclosed area where you can watch him for any further signs of colic or distress. Give him plenty of water, but no hay and watch to see how much manure he passes, watch and make sure the symptoms disappear. Check on him every hour, if he is resting comfortably that is a great sign. Do not feed him until the next day.


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