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Posted on May 27, 2015 in Articles, Health & nutrition, Veterinary

Equine Colic

Equine Colic

We are starting to get to the time of year where colic is becoming more frequent across the equestrian board. Colic is a symptom of abdominal pain (cause is variable), different horses demonstrate this in a variety of ways. The severity of colic ranges considerably and it is important to identify your horse’s discomfort as quickly as possible so that, in working with your veterinary surgeon, we can have the best prognosis.

Common signs of colic are quiet, not eating, lying down, rolling, flank watching, sweating/trembling, lack of defecation, stretched out, flehmen response, pawing and kicking at abdomen. The difficulty is when you have stoical horse which doesn’t show signs of discomfort until it is severe, if this is the case then it is important to contact your vet immediately if your horse is of this nature.


95% of colics are medical in their management/treatment, with the remaining 5% requiring surgery. The frequency of colic ranges from 10-30% of horses/year. 80% of colic is spasmodic in nature and is easily managed, impactions make up a further 10%, and the remaining percentage is made up of displacements, torsions, entrapments, and other less common causes e.g. colitis, ulcers, obstructions, grass sickness, sand colic or is unrelated to the gastric tract.

Common causes of colic are sudden feed change, management changes, worms, body condition score (too fat or too thin), poor mastication (so regular good dental care is important), weather, transport, stress/ulcers, bad design of the horses intestinal tract making it easier for problems to occur than in other species, and long term medication.

Reducing the risk can be done by ensuring that feed changes are done gradually, and ensure the feed is soaked/wetted appropriately. Horses should have access to long fibre forage/grass for the majority of the day. Exercise management is important as horses are designed to be eating and moving for the majority of the day, therefore horses on box rest are at a higher risk so soaking the feed can help reduce the risk, and horses in harder work are more prone to colic often due to the feed they are on and the increased stress due to the exercise level. Pasture is difficult to manage in some cases but lush or frosty grass has been shown to increase the likelihood of a horse developing spasmodic colic, and very sandy pastures with short grass predispose horses to sand impactions. Yard management is also very important, to try to keep the horse’s daily routine as regular as possible. It has also been shown that having >3 people caring for an individual horse increases the chance of a horse colicing.

Regular good quality dental care (by your vet or a BEVA qualified EDT) is imperative in the reduction of colic risk in your horse. Along with this, a good worming program of poo picking, faecal worm egg counts and appropriate worming off results it vital to ensure minimal gastro intestinal stress and competition for digestible food absorption and reduced trauma to the intestinal lining.

If your horse is on long term medication or is a stress horse then a gastric protectant such as a good pre+probiotic or a gut lining supplement (such as Gut Action) will be of significant benefit.

Transport, pregnancy and crib biting/wind sucking all can cause predisposition to colic due to the stress caused in a variety of ways to the gastric tract.

If you horse does start showing signs of colic, the most important thing to do is stay calm, and ring your vet immediately. Remove the horse’s food but they must have access to fresh water. Depending on your vets advise you may or may not be advised to walk the horse and administer analgesia if appropriate.

Sorting a colic is entirely dependent on the cause, this can range from simply administering analgesia (pain relief) and an antispasmodic to stomach tubing with fluids or IV fluids, exercise, and sometimes surgery or worst case euthanasia.  The best treatment for your individual case will be decided by your vet after undertaking a thorough clinical examination.

Finally… surgery. This is normally only for more severe colics, e.g. displacements, torsions, severe or large impactions. It costs on average between £3500-5000, and survival varies between 50-75%. It is dependent on time from colic starting to surgery, the type of colic, the length of time in surgery and the amount of gut resected if required. Post surgery management is normally 8 weeks box rest followed by 8 weeks small paddock turn out, but this, again, depends on the individual case and can vary. This is important to have in mind though when considering surgery for your horse for colic as to how they cope with box and small paddock rest, and for some the stress of this may encourage a repeat colic episode soon after surgery.


If you have any questions of queries about colic then please contact the office on 01270 766 455 or email


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