Initial Management of a Colicky Horse

December 7, 2004 (published) | July 12, 2021 (revised)

If your horse has developed colic, what should you do?  The word colic strikes fear in the mind of most horse owners.  Dr. Rob Franklin with Full Bucket Animal Health in Weatherford indicates there is some debate on what you should do first.  Historically, horse owners have started walking their horse at the first signs of colic, and this is a good idea for low-grade colic cases.  It is recommended by most to walk the horse maybe 10 minutes every hour but not continually.  I have been called out to see colic cases that have been going on for hours and the horse has been walked the entire time.  The horses and owners are worn out and this is not necessary as the horse needs to rest some also.  Walking is helpful to prevent a mild colic from lying down but if your horse is in serious pain, then walking is not going to help. 

The second thing to do is call your vet.  I feel all colic cases are potential emergencies and should be seen by a vet.  It is a lot easier to get an initial exam and determine the severity rather than waiting until the horse is dehydrated and critical.  It is important to know if your horse has an appetite and if bowel movements are occurring.  However, lots of folks see a bowel movement and think the horse is okay and this may not be the case.  Horses have a long intestinal tract and so a bowel movement is possible with a functioning distal colon and rectum and yet the horse could still have a serious problem.  It is important to withhold food and grain initially and if the horse is hungry, allow them to graze for 5 minutes out of every hour. We don’t want to pack a lot more feed on top of an impaction, if there is one.  Offer water and monitor drinking as a 1,000-pound horse needs to drink about 6 gallons per day  minimum, and if this is not occurring, dehydration will develop.   

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