Colic is a relatively common problem and serious health concern for horse owners. If you are looking to adopting one of our rescue horses, educate yourself on the different forms of colic. Learn the signs, symptoms, causes, and treatment options so that you can best care for your new rescue horse.
Signs & Symptoms of Colic in Horses
Colic in horses is generally defined as abdominal pain. It is a common, all-encompassing term but is more accurately a symptom rather than a diagnosis. It can simply mean discomfort due to gas, or more serious issues of obstructions in the gastrointestinal tract. Broadly speaking, colic is the leading medical cause of death in horses. If your animal exhibits any of the symptoms listed below a veterinarian should be contacted immediately.
Causes of Colic
This essentially means no root cause can be determined for the pain. This is the vast majority of colic cases and can largely be attributed to diet. Undigested food can accumulate and begin to ferment in the hindgut. This can result in excess fluid or gas (spasmodic) build up in the gut or digestive tract. The increased pressure can cause inflammation in the stomach and intestinal lining causes discomfort.
Impaction can also occur if there is a build-up of non-digestible materials such as dirt or sand. This can create abnormalities or blockages in the digestive tract causing a distended abdominal region. Once symptoms are noticed a medical exam should be sought immediately.
Dehydration, although not a cause on its own, can be a contributing factor and exacerbate any of the other symptoms worsening the matter.
Tapeworm or parasites that happened to be in the food supply can become a serious problem. This can lead to a viral infection in the intestines and possible intussusceptions where the intestinal walls actually fold in upon one another. Equally concerning is the process of strangulation/torsion. The underlying causes are not fully understood but twist can occur in the colon and small intestines cutting off the blood supply.
- Loss of appetite
- Sitting, lack of movement
Treatment and Preventative Measures
Constant care and awareness are necessary, especially if your horse has exhibited symptoms in the past. Monitor the feeding schedule closely. Make sure none of the feed is old or moldy. If a horse must eat processed grains rather than a natural diet make sure the meals are smaller and more frequent. This will allow starches to digest moderately causing less acid buildup. Adding more natural foods like grasses, leave, and chopped hay to the diet will also help in this respect. Polar lipids, beta glucans, nucleotides and other feed supplements can be used to balance pH levels in the gut.
If you notice signs of colic, it is important to stop any physical activity immediately and seek out an exam with a veterinarian. The vet will be able to tell through a number of methods the severity of the situation and if surgery may be necessary. A basic exam will include questions about and monitoring of feeding schedule and bowel movements. Keep as much information about this any behavioral changes as possible.
The vet will also perform nasogastric intubation where a bore tube is placed through the nostrils and into the stomach. This procedure is helpful in relieving the gas build up and administering any analgesic medication as needed. Laxatives and lubricants such as mineral oils can be given to relieve impaction in the colon due to accumulated sand or other non-digestible.
Methods have improved and overall survival rates increased over the years. Your animal will still need to be monitored closely once treatment has stopped. Monitor your horses progress with regular follow up appointments to the vet. Adjust dietary and exercise regimes accordingly as well. With the proper love and attention, your horse’s recovery will be as seamless as possible.