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Horse Colic, Signs, Symptoms and How to Treat It

Updated on February 19, 2016
Msmillar profile image

I've been writing for several years. It's so rewarding to know readers enjoy my work and learn from it. I look forward to writing more!

What Causes Colic? - "Human Error"

Colic is caused most often by gravel, dirt and rocks collecting in the horses stomach, which, in turn, blocks the flow of the intestinal system. This blockage is most often caused by feeding a horse on the ground where there is loose dirt and gravel. When horses eat, they are like a vacuum, sucking up every last bit of hay as well as the dirt it sits in.

The best way to protect a horse is to use a feeder bucket that hangs on the fence, wall or bar. Or a barrel cut in half and set on the ground.

The other main cause of colic is their feed. Whether it be a change in feed, or over feeding, it doesn't really matter; either one can set a horse up for colic.

To protect your horse from "feed" colic, don't make abrupt feed changes. Their system becomes accustomed to digesting a particular type of hay or alfalfa, don't switch to pellets then back to hay suddenly. Make it a gradual change; over a period of one week should be fine. Not all horses colic from a feed change but some horses are more sensitive than others, so don't chance it.

Over feeding, well, this can be cured by......not over feeding. Horses will eat as long as there is food there. The evolution of horses is a grazing, range animal. Since horses are, now, for the most part, prisoners of mankind, they no longer have to walk miles and miles for grazing. They just stand in one spot and the food is brought to them. So feed them accordingly. The chart below gives a rough idea of how much to feed a horse on a daily basis.

Worms can cause a horse to colic. A regular worming schedule can help keep these parasites at bay!

The Mystery of Caring for Your Horse - Solved! is a helpful handbook if you are not sure how or what to feed your horse. There's a break down of feed content, a worming schedule, what type of wormer to use, and a lot more helpful information.

Approximate Feeding Guide for Horses and Ponies

Weight of Equine
Amount of Feed
<2,000 lbs
2.5 - 3 flakes, 2x's a day
1,500 - 1,999 lbs
2 - 2.5 flakes 2x's a day
1,000 - 1,499 lbs
1.5 - 2 flakes 2x's a day
500 - 999 lbs
1 - 1.5 flakes 2x's a day
>500 lbs (ponies & mini's)
.5 - 1 flake 2x's a day
Pregnant mares
Feed by weight + a good supplement
For an more accurate amount to feed a horse multiply the horses weight by 2%.

Determine How Much to Feed With the 2% Method

Weight
Amount of Feed
Animal
300 lbs x 2%
6 lbs
Small Pony
400 lbs x 2%
8 lbs
Pony
500 lbs x 2%
10 lbs
Large Pony
800 lbs x 2%
16 lbs
Small Horse
1000 lbs x 2%
20 lbs
Horse
1150 lbs x 2%
23 lbs
Large/Tall Horse
1200 lbs x 2%
24 lbs
Large(Usually) Gelding or Stud
1250 lbs x 2%
25 lbs
Small Draft
Determine how much the horse weighs using a weight tape or whatever other means you employ to determine it. Take that number and multiply it by 2%. This is the amount to feed. See table above.

Horses Cannot Vomit

Horse colic is dangerous, it can mean life, or death, of your horse, if you don't know what to do. Here I will show, tell and video, exactly what you need to do to save your horses life!

Colic is like the stomach flu in humans. It's terribly painful. The problem with horses is that they do not have the ability to vomit. When humans, or just about any mammal, has an upset stomach, like a stomach flu, we vomit. This expels the contaminate, poison or object obstructing and upsetting our stomach. A horse cannot vomit. The pain becomes so severe that they will lie down, even when it's raining outside.

Horses don't normally lay down in the rain, not even horses that enjoy rain, they just don't. When a horse colics they will lie down anywhere, in the rain, in a tight stall, on rocks, anywhere. When a horse lays down, with their stomach upset, and writhing, their intestines become twisted or telescope upon themselves, causing a horrible death.

Below is a chart of the signs a horse is starting to colic through when the signs of full blown colic:

Signs Your Horse Has Colic

Signs
Explanation
What to Do
Food Refusal/Not Hungry
The horse is beginning to feel the onset of colic.
Colic is just setting in. Put the horses halter on and walk him/her.
Food Refusal & Twisiting His/Her Head Back to Look at Stomach and/or Nip at Stomach
The horse is looking to see what is hurting him/her. Nipping at the unseen pain
Put the horses halter on and start walking. He/she is going to lie down if you don't. Consider medicating with Pepto Bismol.
Lying Down
All horses lie down but when they lay down ALL THE WAY this means trouble.
The horse is colicking. Medicate with Pepto Bismol or better yet, Banamine.
Lying Down Rolling/Making Odd Noises/Thrashing About
The horse is in the full throes of colic
This is an emergency situation. Get the horse up and call the equine veternarian. Death is close at hand!
The above signs of colic are in order of severity.

Atlas Refuses Her Apple - Sign of Colic

Banamine - Colic medication
Banamine - Colic medication | Source

When the horse has laid down or is about to lay down, you must get him/her up because the intestines are upset and they will telescope upon each other or twist into a knot.

If you just notice the horse is down, but don't know how long or if it had its head down (a telltale sign of colic they will put their head onto the ground) look closely at the side of their head. If the horse had its head on the ground it will have signs of dust or hay on the side of its head near the jaw or on the temple.

Give the horse either Pepto Bismol, this can be purchased at the local drug store or supermarket or, better yet, Banamine, prescribed by a veterinarian.

Medicate the Colicing Horse with Pepto Bismol or Banamine

Years ago I had a horse colic and she refused to get up. I had to take a whip to her. Tears were streaming down my cheeks because I knew she was in pain, but I also knew I had to get her up or she would die. I tapped her thigh and rump area (you don't need to beat the day lights out of the horse that refuses to get up!!). As I tapped her hind end, my kids jumped up and down shouting trying to activate her natural instinct of "fight or flight". It worked!! She got up and we were able to walk her and save her life!

You need to walk, walk, walk and walk some more. You're looking for the horses intestines to start moving. A sign that the bowels are moving will be gas or a bowel movement. A bowel movement is really what you want.

When the horse moves its bowels you'll want to test it. You do this by collecting a few of the "biscuits" and put them in a bucket or glove, add water and swirl it around until dissolved. Once dissolved, pour off the excess water and see what you have left in the bucket or glove. Gravel or rocks means the horse has "sand" colic. Undigested hay and a lot of it, means "hay" or "feed" colic.

See video below:

When the Horse Does Have a Bowel Movement, CHECK IT! Here's How.

You need to call an equine veterinarian out immediately if the horse is writhing. He/she needs to be put out of its misery.

If you catch the horse in colic early your chances of saving its life are really good. If you don't notice until the horse is down and writhing on the ground your chances are poor.

If you did catch it early and act on it right away, the horse will be up and eating in no time at all!! Its up to your watchful eye and perseverance to save your horses life. More often than not, colic is caused by human error (see paragraph above "human error").

Authors similar horse info's & articles: www.hottotrothorses.com

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  • shelberttk2 profile image

    Michelle 4 years ago from Central Oregon

    Great article! I would like to mention the importance of NOT giving Banamine if your horse is not drinking!!

    Michelle

  • Msmillar profile image
    Author

    Joanna 5 years ago from Valley Springs

    Thank you so much Phil Plasma! I was able to provide such detailed information because I filmed it as it was happening, ya know. A real life scenario is better than any memory recall.

    Thanks again!

  • Phil Plasma profile image

    Phil Plasma 5 years ago from Montreal, Quebec

    Being a suburbanite my interaction with horses is pretty much zero. However, that doesn't stop me from telling you this is a terrific article to help people recognize horse colic early, and tips on what to do about it. Hopefully the right people will find this hub, and better still, as a result of it, a horse will be saved. Voted up, useful and awesome.