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Coping with Colic

Updated on May 16, 2014

A Frightening Fact

Colic is a word that terrifies most horse owners, and rightfully so. While mild episodes of colic are fairly common and sometimes easy to treat, severe episodes can be life threatening. Aside from old age, colic is the number one cause of death among horses.

THIS LENS IS NOT meant to be a way to bypass treatment by a vet; it is offered for informational purposes only. You should know your horse well enough to notice when he is "off", and all horse owners should be able to recognize the signs of colic. Having 10 horses, we have had to learn how to deal with most cases of colic (but we still call the vet if we need to). If you have experience dealing with colicky horses, then this page may be a handy reference for you. If you are a new owner or somewhat inexperienced you are still welcome to use this page to learn more about colic in horses, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE call your vet if your horse shows signs of colic (don't take unnecessary chances!)

PHOTO: This Palomino is exhibiting a classic sign of colic; lying down and looking at his flank (he is not one of our horses).

Our simple [but effective] arsenal - Mineral Oil, Stethoscope, Banamine AND a cell phone (last not pictured; but I think you know what they look like :o)

Our Favorite Colic Preventive

Farnam Natural Psyllium Pellets 10Lb
Farnam Natural Psyllium Pellets 10Lb

This has worked the best for us; it's in pelleted form and when mixed with the horse's regular feed it is impossible for them to eat around :o) It is also helpful to feed following your regular deworming treatments.


What is Colic?

Colic in horses is defined as abdominal pain, but it is a clinical sign rather than a diagnosis. The term colic can encompass all forms of gastrointestinal conditions which cause pain as well as other causes of abdominal pain not involving the gastrointestinal tract. The most common forms of colic are gastrointestinal in nature and are most often related to colonic disturbance. There are a variety of different causes of colic, some of which can prove fatal without surgical intervention. Colic surgery is usually an expensive procedure as it is major abdominal surgery, often with intensive aftercare. Among domesticated horses, colic is a major cause of premature death. The incidence of colic in the general horse population has been estimated between 10 and 11 percent on an annual basis. It is important that any person who owns or works with horses be able to recognize the signs of colic and determine whether or not a veterinarian should be called.

Source: Wikkipedia

What are the signs of colic? - (these are not our horses)

The horse will turn his head repeatedly to look at his side (as if to say, "What's wrong in there??) He will sometimes kick at it; and often lays down and gets up several times in succession (while frequently looking at his flank) in an attempt to ease the pain.

What is Sand Colic?

This is a more common form of colic that occurs when a pasture is overgrazed and the horse is eating close to the ground. Usually, the horse is already carrying around about 30 to 80 pounds of dirt or sand by the time it becomes a problem. One way to prevent this from happening is to feed a digestive aid like "Sandblast". (We use Equi Aid)

Source: How to be your own Veterinarian (James)

(these are not our horses either)

Horses that live in sandy areas (like Florida) are more likely to develop Sand Colic, however, all horse owners need to be familiar with it as many areas outside of the sunshine state also have sand in their soil (referred to as "sandy loam").

What is Impaction Colic?

Mild to severe pain that develops over a short period of time (one or two days). Piles are smaller and drier than they should be; often the horse becomes severely constipated before signs are noticed. Horse will usually adopt the classic pose of laying down and looking at their flank, and/or stretching out on their side with the head extended and periodically raising it to look at their flank.

Source: A-Z of Horse Diseases (Hawcroft)

A dose of mineral oil and some walking (not riding) will often do the trick. If symptoms do not improve, call your vet.

(This is not one of our horses)

This horse is showing signs of colic; swinging her head around to look at her flank in confusion.

MiracleCorp Products Equi-Best SandBuster Pellets
MiracleCorp Products Equi-Best SandBuster Pellets

We've never tried this stuff, but I am a big fan of things that come in pelleted form (less waste, don'tcha know ;o)


What is Spasmodic Colic?

Sudden and severe pain followed by periods of calmness. Horse will paw at the ground, stamp feet, and kick at stomach. They may also stretch out (see photo below). As the pain become more frequent, the horse may thrown himself to the ground and roll violently. Very loud gastrointestinal sounds may be heard. An immediate shot of Banamine or similar medication will be needed.

Source: A-Z of Horse Diseases (Hawcroft)


This horse has stretched out attempting to ease the pain - (This is not one of our horses either-either)

You have only to look at his expression to see how miserable this poor fellow is.

What is Obstruction Colic?

This is a more severe colic that is caused by a twisted bowel or foreign body lodged in the intestines. No stomach sounds and the horse's mucous membranes (gums and eyes) will be brick red to bluish to white. This type of colic is much more intense and the horse will usually appear desperate: kicking violently, throwing himself to the ground and thrashing about.

Source: A-Z of Horse Diseases (Hawcroft)


So what exactly does it look like in there?

A closeup of the digestive tract

Poking through the poop - Okay it's gross, but it CAN provide you with very important information

Your horse's poop should be rounded and easily break apart when it hits the ground. While the poop in the photo looks normal, it actually contains small strongyles, which are sometimes very difficult to spot.

Aspire to Inspire

Horses are creatures of habit and tend to poop in the same general area. Walking a colicky horse through their poop zone after medicating can help them to "go".

On the Lighter Side: Cranial Colic????

Oh yeah, this one is ALL ours...

This is Shadow, our resident drama queen. His bouts of cranial colic have been dubbed "Dramatic Episodes, (he usually has at least one per month). He doesn't actually have colic in this photo, he is simply pouting.

Mineral Oil - Is something we always keep handy


This is what we reach for first when Shadow (or anybody else) shows signs of colic. Care should be used when dosing, however, as it can be harmful or fatal if aspirated (inhaled) by your horse.

Which is why I LOVE the dosing syringe in the next module ;o)


Documenting A Dramatic Episode - Shadow showing signs of colic

Shadow has the real thing (chronic colic) in addition to his dramatic episodes. It took me quite awhile to catch on, and the poor guy has (I'm sure) received a number of unnecessary shots of Banamine in the past. Because colic is so serious, each of Shadow's episodes must be approached as "the real thing". A small dose of Mineral Oil, a stroll through the poop for inspiration, and a thorough check for signs that something has upset him usually help us to ferret out the truth :o)

Want to know the cause of all the drama in the above photos? Max got in a lucky kick.

Want to know the cause of all the drama in the above photos? Max got in a lucky kick.
Want to know the cause of all the drama in the above photos? Max got in a lucky kick.

Check out our supersecret weapon for battling Shadow's bouts of cranial colic: - It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a.....Blankie?!?!?

Yep, that's right...a blankie. Our Shadow has a blanket fettish which we discovered quite by accident. A small dose of mineral oil, a stroll through the poop, and (most importantly) some special time with Blankie help our resident Drama Queen return to his sassy self in no time.

...and nope, I'm not kidding :o)

I'm so very happy you stopped by... - Please take a minute to just say "Hi"

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    • delia-delia profile image


      4 years ago

      Wow this brings back memories...bad ones! I use to give a shot when I saw my horse was about to colic, it worked great (the name escapes me at this moment)...but once it's set in, there is so much work to keep the horse alive. They are sensitive creatures and can colic just about from from anything, stress, weather, food etc. Who ever came up with the saying 'healthy as a horse?!'

    • AllTypesOfHorses profile image


      5 years ago

      What a great lens :) Seeing a horse with colic is scary, sometimes people don't understand not to feed horses when they pass them, this is a very good reason why not.

      I have made a note of your charity, Epic farms - I am moving all my horse lenses to my main account (stylishimo) when I finish that, and update my horse lenses I will make sure to set the donation option % to epic farms.

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      6 years ago from Kansas

      Great information. Didn't know there were so many types of colic. Especially like the info. on the cranial colic. We may have a case of that with our youngest horse. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens- I enjoyed reading it very much.

    • ruth-williams lm profile image

      ruth-williams lm 

      6 years ago

      Shadow is such a beautiful horse! Will be sure to bookmark these points in case my own horse falls ill.

    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 

      6 years ago from Canada

      What an informative lens and I so enjoyed my visit. Shadow is a sweetheart (even if there is a bit of the drama queen thing going on there lol.)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have only had one horse in my lifetime and it had colic before I got him, because he got into a feed bin and gorged He lived on grass when I had him, so I never had a colic problem (thank God). For anyone not horse-minded, I am sure you have seen a baby with colic and listened to it's screams of pain.....not fun. Great lens and I loved the photos!

    • equestrianscience profile image


      6 years ago

      Interesting lens, in the UK we have more colic related to grass than sand.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Oh my, I never knew how bad colic can be for an animal.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I think I found out today I have a drama queen. My mustang colt was grazing in the neighbors field, shorty after I brought him back into his own pasture to feed him his breakfast he started to lay down and roll. He'd get up whinny and lay back down and roll more. I thought colick,I ran to the house to call the vet. No vet was available. I ran back to field and put him into a stall. First thing he did was poop, 2 times. He was drinking and eating his hay. So do I have a drama queen and do horses have tantums?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I think I found out today I have a drama queen. My mustang colt was grazing in the neighbors field, shorty after I brought him back into his own pasture to feed him his breakfast he started to lay down and roll. He'd get up whinny and lay back down and roll more. I thought colick,I ran to the house to call the vet. No vet was available. I ran back to field and put him into a stall. First thing he did was poop, 2 times. He was drinking and eating his hay. So do I have a drama queen and do horses have tantums?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great lens. We've helped a lot of our customer's horses with colic and it is always scary.

    • Poison kitty profile image

      Poison kitty 

      7 years ago

      Your horse shadow absolutely cracked me up, I've had horses like him in the past! My last horse had a *mild* case of choke once and was acting like she was dieing!

      My experience of colic has (unfortunately) ranged from the mild to the severe. I've found a good preventative is to give a good balanced feed with some sort of pro-biotic enzymes in there - they're not just for humans! Also keep some bran in your feed room as it acts as a natural laxative. But don't buy a whole sack from your feed merchant - just get a box from the supermarket!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Alas, I've never had a horse, although I love horses. Somehow you managed to be highly informative and entertaining at the same time--the latter in large part due to Shadow. We have a dog who loves her fleece pajamas like Shadow loves his Blankie, so the power of Blankie makes perfect sense to me.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for your info. My horse is going thru this right now. Got her to take some bute and walked her for a long time now and she is pooping, very wet, but pooping. Will keep an eye on her for sure. One of my mares died from this. Very sad.

      Again, thank you for your article and pics.

    • Bellezza-Decor profile image


      9 years ago from Canada

      Such an informative lens about horse colic symptoms, causes, and remedies 5*! Thanks for sharing.

    • Holley Web profile image

      Holley Web 

      9 years ago

      As Shadow's biggest fan, other than you, I just think he's so precious. It's as if he just needs attention because he's been neglected in the past. I'm glad I know the signs now. Thank you for the information.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      One of our ponies got colic and I spent what seemed an eternity just walking her around to ease it. Luckily it was the only time I ever had to deal with it.

      Another brilliant lens and Angel Blessings to you.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very informative! Colic is the scariest thing known to horse people, and your descriptions of the varying types is great. I do, however, find the 'cranial colic' kind of funny, and the security blanket absolutely hysterical. Poor Shadow!


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