Colic can be one of the worst words to hear when it comes to your horse. Thousands of horses suffer from colic each year and sometimes they die because of it. But do you know how to recognize it and what to do about it?
What is colic?
It’s a collection of conditions that have to do with digestive system problems in horses. Horses have pretty sensitive systems so changes to their feed, weather fluctuation, or other stress can cause problems pretty quickly.
- It could be that something is upsetting their system. Since horses can’t vomit, stomach issues like this have to pass on through the horse or resolve in other ways.
- It could be something blocking the intestines like sand build up, parasites or other stuff that keeps things from moving through the system. The blockage needs to be opened one way or another.
- A part of the digestive system could twist or turn back on itself, blocking the blood supply to the tissues. In this case, surgery will probably be necessary to fix things.
What signs and symptoms should you watch for?
Since there are so many types of colic, each horse reacts a little different, and severity of the condition all effect the appearance, you might see all of these, one or two symptoms or something in between. Your horse may
- seem down in the dumps
- paw the ground
- nibble at or look at their sides
- roll or try to lie down in a way that seems off
- fidget or seem restless
- not be able to poop or pee normally
- not be hungry or thirsty
- show signs of pain, like sweating or rapid heart rate (50+ beats per min.)
- lack gut sounds or have hyperactive or rare gut sounds
- just not look right. “Something Ain’t Right” can be a symptom.
If you see anything that makes you wonder, it is well worth checking it out. If you really have a case of colic on your hands, your horse may be depending on you to get them life saving treatment in a hurry.
What should you do if you think your horse might have colic?
The first thing happens even before your horse has a problem. You should be aware of your horse’s habits. Knowing what’s normal helps determine when there’s something NOT normal.
If your horse isn’t quite right, observing them can be super helpful. When did they eat last? Any changes in their diet or lifestyle? Are they drinking? Peeing? Pooping? The more specifics you know, the better you can help the vet to treat them.
A call to the vet is important if you suspect colic. A vet’s care can be the best way to ease the pain and help your equine partner survive. Vets can treat the specific problems your horse is having and provide support that could make all the difference.
Horse colic can be life threatening, even if you take all the right steps and your vet does all that they can. Your vet can help ease the pain, perform procedures and recommend/perform surgery (very pricey) if necessary. If these measures aren’t working, are unavailable or aren’t affordable, you might have to make the difficult decision of euthanasia.
The quality of life for your horse is the number one concern. You can only do so much, but if you’ve done what you can, that’s enough.
Can you prevent colic?
Sometimes, it just happens. You can be doing everything right, but your horse is just going to colic. There are steps you can take that might decrease the chances of colic happening to your horse, however.
Keep plenty of quality food with lots of roughage and fresh, cool but not cold, water in front of them. If you have changes, make them slowly or in steps.
Make sure you’re keeping up with preventive maintenance like worming and dental care. You can decrease the chances of disrupting that delicate system by supporting a normal flow through the digestive tract.
Colic is not something you want to deal with. But if you have horses, you might have to do it at some point. Having an idea of what to look for and what steps to take can help ease your mind so you can enjoy this great big, majestic, generous creatures we like to have in our lives.
For more about horse health, read What supplements does my horse need?
Tell me about your experiences with your horse in the comments, below.
For more about treating and preventing colic, read this post from PetMD