Colic refers to the symptoms of any sort of abdominal pain in the horse. It is not always serious and it is not always associated with the intestines. It can also be caused by pain from other abdominal organs. The horse will be reluctant to move and will often show signs such as pawing with its front legs, kicking up with its back legs, turning to look at its flanks, lying down, rolling, and sweating. Other things can look like colic, the most common being laminitis.
Most colic is not serious or life threatening and will settle of its own accord or can be easily treated. However some cases are caused by something more serious and will need urgent veterinary attention. In these cases the longer it goes on the more serious it becomes. Colic should be treated as an emergency. Please telephone the practice for advice if you are at all uncertain.
There are a number of reasons for intestinal pain
Spasm or abnormal contraction of the intestine can be caused by sudden change in diet or management. Some horses are more prone to this type of colic.
Distension and stretching of the intestine can occur after eating a large amount of fibrous feed such as straw, and if this is followed by a period of inactivity then an impaction may result.
Distension may also develop when a great deal of gas is produced in the intestines. This may be due to inactivity but is most often caused by rapidly fermenting food such as a flush of new grass or an oversized hard feed.
The most serious forms of colic are caused by twisting or unusual positioning of the intestine. The blood supply can then be cut off and the affected piece of intestine will die off rapidly. Urgent surgery is needed to achieve a successful outcome and this will depend on how quickly the problem is recognised and treated.
Try to avoid sudden dietary changes. Do not feed diets that are too rich. Avoid feeding on a flush of new grass. As far as possible avoid standing in all day or eating straw bedding. Feed plenty of grass (not lush) or hay and give plenty of exercise. Try not to keep stabled on hard feed. Unfortunately, the most serious forms of colic are unpredictable and are the least preventable.
If colic occurs try to make sure the horse is not in a place where it will injure itself if it rolls. A soft open area will be best if the horse is determined to roll. A thrashing colicky horse can be dangerous, so do be careful for your own safety. Remove all feed.
We have an experienced surgical team available to deal with serious colic cases, avoiding the need for long distance travel and referral to an unknown centre. This allows for more immediate intervention when necessary, increasing the chance of a favourable outcome. Owners are then able to visit and support their horses during recovery at their local practice which is beneficial to both.