Colic Update in Horses

September 16, 2007 (published) | March 27, 2018 (revised)

Today I am talking about signs you may see if your horse is exhibiting colic. Colic simply means abdominal pain not necessarily related to the gastrointestinal tract. However, colic in horses is usually related to the GI tract and some horses show pain differently than others, while just like humans some horses have a higher pain threshold than others. Many horses with colic appear restless and may show more or less movement in the stall than normal. Some horses will walk circles in the stall and not stopping, while others lie down. Some will roll also, although it's important to try to keep the horse from rolling if possible. With an enlarged gas-distended intestine, rolling can lead to twisting of the intestine, which makes the condition much more serious, although the intestine can twist even if the horse does not roll. Many horses will also sweat due to the pain involved.

One sign I see commonly is that the horse will not eat. I don't believe I have ever seen a horse with a significant colic eat, and I use this as one sign of recovery because if the horse does not eat after treatment, I feel they are still having some pain. Other signs of pain include pawing, kicking at the belly, and staring at their flanks, while some horses will curl their upper lips. Some horses with colic have decreased bowel movements, but not all. The horse has a large amount of intestine and the upper portion of it could be distended and inactive and yet the lower portion could be functional and the horse could still be having bowel movements in the early stages. So although bowel movements are good to see in colic cases, this sign does not mean a lot as far as the horse's over all condition. Any colic can be serious, so do not wait if you see these signs but call your vet immediately.

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