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What is colic?

Colic in horses is defined as abdominal pain from any cause. 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. Horses cannot vomit or belch, which makes them more prone to colic than other animals.


What causes colic?

Colic can be caused by grass and hay can blocking the large intestine. Insufficient water, a change in feed, bad teeth, or sand buildup can also contribute to the blockage of the intestines. The intestines can also become obstructed when the intestine rotates around itself, or when the intestine moves into an abnormal location. Most of the time, when the intestines become twisted or displaced, it is not from the horse rolling. The horse rolls because the intestine has become twisted or displaced, and it is very painful. Colic can also be caused by internal parasites (roundworm) and diarrhea. Muscle spasms in the intestinal tract are the most common form of colic. This is caused by a change in diet, or even from stress or excitement.

Mare and foal


Is colic serious?

Colic can cause death, usually from shock brought on from the obstruction of the blood flow to the horse's digestive tract or by rupture of his stomach or intestines. When the blood supply is completely shut off to the horse's stomach or intestine, he will die within a few hours if it is not taken care of immediately. If the horse's blood flow is not blocked, but contents are able to move throughout the intestines is blocked, the horse may only survive 24-48 hours. If the horse has both blood flow and partial movement for the contents through the intestines, it might take a week for the intestinal contents to pass. But the horse will eventually die if it is not corrected.

Horses galloping in a green field

What are the warning signs of colic?

Warning signs of colic can include:

  • Restlessness and pawing at the ground

  • Sweating and increased breathing rate

  • Irritated kicking to the stomach

  • Stretching out

  • Rolling or attempting to roll

  • Reaching around with the head to the flank

  • An increased amount of time lying down

  • Poor appetite

What should I do if I think my horse has colic?

If you think your horse might have colic, call your veterinarian immediately! Minor problems can become severe and

untreatable if you wait too long. The "wait and see" approach is never a good idea when it comes to equine colic. Relate your horse’s vital signs to the vet, at which point the veterinarian will determine if the horse needs to be examined at that time or if you can just monitor an look for further signs.

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