How-to Deal with Colic in Horses
Causes of Equine Colic
Colic in horses can be a dangerous, even life threatening illness. The causes are varied, and it is not always possible to pin down the cause of your horse's colic. The important thing is that you act quickly.
Colic is simply abdominal pain caused by an unknown. It could be gas, or an intestinal blockage. Some of the causes are:
- spasm in the gut
- twisted gut, where the intestine actually twists and cuts off circulation
- gastric distension, where the horse has gorged on feed and it is swelling in the stomach
- abrupt change in feed
- our vet swears that he sees more colic in the early spring when the nights are cold and the days are warm
A Vet Discusses Colic
Symptoms of Colic
The symptoms of colic in horses can range from listlessness to rolling in pain. Knowing how your horse acts, being around him and observing his behavior when he is well, will help alert you when he is not acting "quite right".
Some of the signs are:
- not wanting to graze or feed
- depression, walking with head hanging
- lying down getting up and lying down over and over again
- standing with neck stretched out
- standing frequently as if he has to urinate
- turning the head towards the flank and biting at it
- repeatedly curling the upper lip
- pawing the ground
- kicking at the abdomen
How to Treat Minor Colic
Generally if you can catch colic when the horse is in the early stages, and it is a simple gas type of colic the following method will work well. If at anytime you are uncomfortable with how your horse is acting, have a bad "feeling" or are concerned call your vet immediately. Be ready to tell him what the symptoms are and what the horse has eaten in the past few days.
If your horse is acting violently, rolling, or you can't get him up and walking call your vet immediately!
Check his gums. They should be moist and the color should return quickly when you push on them with your finger. If they are dry or sticky, or if the color does not return normally call your vet.
Take all food away from the horse. Put a halter on him and a lead rope. Hose him down to cool him off, be sure that you get his belly and midsection really wet. Now, start walking him. Not too fast, but enough to keep him moving. Allow him to stop if he wants a rest, but do not allow him to lay down. Many times a horse will stop to lip at some grass. If he begins grazing this is a good sign. Allow him to graze a little and then walk him some more. It means his pain is subsiding. Many vets recommend walking him for ten minutes out of every hour. We have better luck walking for twenty minutes, allowing a ten minute rest and walking again. The point is not to tire the animal out but to get his system working again.
It may take awhile but as long as the horse is willing to walk then just stay with him. If he goes down and won't get up you need to call the vet immediately. I can't stress this enough. Observe the horse carefully, at some point he should begin to pass gas. This is a good sign and it means that the colic is subsiding. You may notice that after he begins to pass gas he will begin grazing a bit more. This is also an excellent sign. Continue the cycle of walking and allowing him to graze, and then walking again until he seems to be back to normal. If he has a bowel movement that is also a good sign. I tend to like to observe my horses for several hours after a bout with colic.
Once he is grazing normally then you can allow him to be off the lead but skip his next grain meal. Allow him to eat grass if possible, or hay. If he continues to act normally then he can go back to regular feedings at the next scheduled meal. This is not necessarily a quick process. We had a situation the other night where we walked a colicky horse in the walk-graze-walk cycle for six hours before I was comfortable allowing him back into the normal pasture.
Preventing Colic in Horses
While there can be many reasons for a horse to develop colic, there are some things you can guard against to lessen the chances.
- Establish a regular routine of feeding, turnout and exercise
- Always feed the best quality feed and plenty of good quality hay.
- Make sure the horse always has free access to fresh water.
- Establish a regular regimen of deworming.
- Make feed changes gradually
- Pay close attention to your horse during and after stressful situations
- Know your horse!
- Feed hay before grain, keep grain rations small
- Feed grain in two or three rations rather than one big one
While colic can be dangerous, it is important that you don't panic. Observe your horse so that you know what to tell your vet. Having someone there to assist you is a big help as well. If the horse does not respond favorably in an hour or so, or worsens, call the vet. There are treatments that the vet can do that work quickly.
Horses are generous and wonderful creatures. It is important to know how to safeguard their health in times of illness. By discussing colic with your vet before it happens you will understand his preferences in the treatment of colic in horses.
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