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How-to Deal with Colic in Horses

Updated on February 1, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.


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:

  • impaction
  • gas
  • 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

  • stress

  • 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

  • listlessness

  • 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

  • rolling

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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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I lost my thoroughbred gelding, 12years old, last night to colic. When i got to him, i saw it was very serious,he was getting beter,but then got pneumonia, and it got real bad, he had cold fever and it wasn't nice seeing my horse like that. At the moment when he fell i said they must call the vet to come put him down, but nobody did, the vet wouldn't be in time anyway, so he passed away. I know his in a better place, but it hurts sooooo much!!! My Arab mare are searching for him everywhere and keep on calling for him. I'll be buring him there in my field, where they can still be together, but she wont know what's going on. Goodluck to all, keep on preventing, it is not nice losing your horse

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      excellent article, recommended for all horse owners.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Yew poisoning, ragwort poisoning etc, mild colic a drench of a full jar of strong powdered coffe diluted with warm water. It has worked for my horses.

      One of my Stallions got colic really bad at the time the kindest thing to do was have him put down, but I was thinking of myself and we sent him to an Equine Hospital. They removed 10foot of his gut and he survived. The only one out of 7 horses admitted that day. A week later I got a phone call to say one of his testicals had become infected and I was asked did I want both removed? They left one on. He was four years old at the time now he has just turned 20. Sorry if it happened again and I could not do anything to help or the Vet could not do anything. The kindest thing to do is have them put down as soon as possible.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My horse is going trough colic so we gave him cooking oil with a seringe and injected him with some muscle relaxser.Two hours later afther walking him he started to act a little better but he still wont eat much.What else can i do to have him recover quicker?

    • profile image


      6 years ago got a 2 and a halve year old thoroughbred great grandson of secretariat, and seatle slew, and he went down this morning with colic, took him to the vet they did what they could, but suggested i take him to 2 hours away for surgery, but I don,t have that kind of money. Anyway I brought him home and i,ve been walking him abought 30 minutes every hour and a half, he seems to be doing a lot better I hope and pray he pulls thru, got to go, going outside to walk him some more. Thanks for everything. Please PRAY.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you so much to who ever put this site out it helped me help my horse rocky he is a quarter apendix he is a playful , nose, and loving horse. The night I went down to the darn and saw him walking in circles and streching out like he had to urinate when I approached him he put his chin in my hands and began to lay down this is when I got really worried I pulled him up and began to walk him I was woried it was colic so I looked up his symptoms and it was colic I walked him on and off and after about 2 hr and he was pulling my jacket and playing with my hair

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have a 15:2HH Cob Stallion. He is 20 now but had a colic operation about 15 years ago. He was wormed regular, fed regular etc but for no reason whatsoever he went down with colic. The Vet came out did all the tests and told me he was suffering and wanted to shoot him. We got him into an Equine Hospital in Liverpool, who removed 10 foot of gut and he survived. A week after he got an infection in one of his testicals. They wanted to remove both but I wanted him as the same old horse. He survived again and a 4K vet bill. Would I do it again? NO, not because of the money but because he was suffering and the vet was right.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      my 5 year old welsh cob section D has just had an operation for colic, by luck came down early to ride him and found him flat out in the field, eyes glazed over and stumbling when he walked, i knew straight away there was something serious wrong with him , it was a sunday but i phoned the vet straight away, she did the normal treatments and suggested a 50 min journey to a specialist hospital, thank god we did it was a blockage and he needed an operation ,2 days later and he is out grazing for 10 minutes every 4 hours and i can bring him home in two days,it seemed the problem was grit, i have been restricted grazing as worried about lamanitis, and him being greedy he has been pulling the grasss out dirt and all, the vet said most horses can cope with grit but he is one that can't, so if ur restricted grazing be carefull, hope this helps

    • equine profile image

      Melissa Kanzelberger 

      6 years ago from Hillsboro, MO

      Colic in horses is akin to basement flooding. If it happened before it will probably happen again. Therefore I agree to do everything you can to prevent it. Clean, high quality forage. Slow changes between diets, high quality feeds.

    • amynichter profile image


      6 years ago from Canton, Ohio

      Great article! One piece of advice that you might want to include is to try to give the vet an idea of the quantity and consistency of the manure in the last few hours, if at all possible. Very informative and easy to read article.

    • Centerlinemassage profile image


      6 years ago from Atlanta, Ga

      Great Hub! This is such an important thing for all horse owners to know how to handle!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I luv horses!

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 

      7 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      Prevention, yes! Thanks for your informative hub. You can't count on the vet being quick enough, especially if he has other horse clients getting sick at the same time.

    • profile image

      aamer ayub 

      7 years ago

      i read it its help to those who have working with horses a lot in my experience about 35years so many cases of colic if u first treat ur horse from pain than u call ur vet if u give regularly dewarm ur horse u dnt have colic u give ur horse ispaghol husk its very better for prevention from colic i do it since 20years

    • profile image


      7 years ago



    • profile image

      Cody McArthur 

      7 years ago

      Lots of great information, just make sure you stick to the original story the hubber intended, and remember a vet is the first thing you need to think about when you notice any signs of colic. Great Hub! Nice Job!

    • profile image

      horse rescuer  

      7 years ago

      as of September 12th , 2010 we lost a young mare to colic. According to our vet it was and is one of the rarest forms of colic as there are NO SIGNS until it is in it finally stages... as they still have stomach sounds, still eat and go to the bathroom and drink water EVERYTHING APPEARS NORMAL!. This kind of colic effects one in a thousand horses so it is rarely heard of. I should have taken better care of her when we rescued her; i should have done something.. i feel so terrible bad.. for not seeing she was in distress.. I have 25 other horses and have rescued 100's and this is the first one that has done this.. does this make me a bad horse care provider cause I failed this horse?? so many questions going threw my head and no answers.. sorry needed to babble.

    • PaperNotes profile image


      8 years ago

      A very helpful hub for horse owners and care takers. When colic happens to a horse it is important to have the horse checked by a veterinarian immediately but it is also good to know some first aid procedures to perform especially if the veterinarian has not yet arrived.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you SO much. My miniature horse means everything to me, and she's only five. If I ever lost her to colic, my world would be upside down. Shes been having problems digesting, and she often stretches in fields. She also rolls often. I personally feel that she's experiencing colic. But others disagree. I know my horse well enough, and she isn't 100% well. Other than walking your horse, are there any other solutions I can use? I've read that some herbs apparentaly do the trick. But I'm not too sure. I could really use some help.

      Thanks again!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      An hors4e at my barn had colic and she had a 3 year old baby she was put down and the baby was outside and kept trying to find her mother it was so sad to watch

    • retrophoto profile image


      8 years ago

      Good Hub! I used to sell horses for a living and back in the day I lost a couple. Granted I've had a few hundred horses and had pretty good luck. If you have a horse in distress keep him on his feet and call the vet immediately. Don't wait for the sweat to be running off his belly and for him to be blowing bubbles. A life is a life and colic can be life threatening in horses. I lost a 3 yr old appendix quarter horse stud colt. We didn't catch it early enough because I had him out to be sold. He got ill in the evening. What a sad day that was.

    • profile image

      Natural Horsemanship 

      8 years ago

      @tearsa, OMG.. That was so sad.. :( I'm sorry to hear that..

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I lost my wonderful, sweet 20 year old mare today, and I can't stop crying. We treated her for 24 hours with no improvement. Found her Wednesday morning, hanging her head, not eating. On Tuesday, I allowed her to 'steal' an extra large mouthfull of grain from the bin, and I can't stop blaming myself. I also had switched hay on Sat., we had run out of 2cnd cutting and switched to something much more course. Now, I've lost a great horse and wonderful friend and feel as if my world has ended..

    • profile image 

      8 years ago

      Someone ask me if they could keep this Horse on some land out behind the house. i thought,,yeah would be kinda fun....anyway....not to drag on and on its my horse now!!! today i noticed "him" layin down alot..and rollin..wouldn't eat...actin really down....he felt kinda warm so i wet em..every time..i could i'd walk em around..slowly he was nibblin,,,(very lil) on ..what's left, that's green now he's in the minute he might be standin..the next layin down. he does look like he's doin a lil better...need some help hear!! anything i could do to make em feel better?

      THNXS a million...oh yeah don't let name fool ya...i am from texas....but i have neeever ever been around horses!!!...don't even have an oil well in backyard...go figure. :)

    • Lee Geurts profile image

      Lee Geurts 

      8 years ago from Green Bay, WI

      Excellent article. Just went through this, scary.

    • kcnck profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm a horse enthusiast. I love seeing the derbies.Your writing is--Nice and simple

    • profile image

      cowgirls dont cry 

      8 years ago

      i am doing a project on colic and this was very helpful

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Isn't that halter a little tight?? Maybe not be able to breathe!

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Cave Creek, Arizona

      Prevention is the way to go, with regular worming and diet being the biggest factors. I have had 2 horse now that I have had to take off alfalfa hay completely as it is too rich. Since changing to bermuda, neither has shown any signs of colic. A dose of psyllium once a month helps too. Theres lots of sand here and it seems to help clean them out.

    • profile image

      country girl 

      9 years ago

      this website really helped out! im going to school to be a traveling vet and have been studying colic.... this page has helped me with a lot of facts and things that i need to know about colic.....

    • paddyhue profile image


      9 years ago from small town in beautiful western Tennessee

      Years of breeding, boarding, training, etcetc in the horses world has taught me that the MOST IMPORTANT rule about colic is: prevent it ! The major rule for that is to worm the horse against as many pests as possible. Some stables worm every day; some every week; some each month and some by the season. SPEAK TO YOUR VET--before--your horse develops colic; plan and enforce a reasonable de-worming program. When my farm management program began to enforce seasonal medication de-worming use; colic dramatically dropped for the 100 head located there. Working a program (over the next 12 months) for each individual horse, with our Vet...eliminated 100% colic attacks. There were other health problems and accidents but colic was under control.

    • AppGal330 profile image


      9 years ago

      A must read for any current or future horse owner! Great, common sense advice. My fav line is "Know your horse". If only more people took just a little time to truly observe their horses a lot of illnesses/injuries would be caught earlier. I go by the "gut" feeling with my boys as you said, if you "feel" something isn't right call the vet. Thanks for sharing a really well written hub.

      Oh, and we're restoring an 1836 we have something in common besides bein' country gals and horsewoman :D

    • mytube profile image

      S.M. Tanvir Farhad 

      9 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

      Thanks for shring nice topic.


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