Colic - mostly due to incorrect feeding, Colic Spasmodic - worms or fermenting food causing spasms , Colic Flatulent - obstruction causing excess gas, Twisted Gut causing intestine fold or twist.
In horses, with Colic outcome is not always so predictable or pleasant. In fact, colic is known as the number one cause of equine death. This is a scary statistic, but if you know what to do to prevent the affliction as well as the common symptoms, the danger is less severe. Most horses can survive if they get the proper help soon enough.
Colic can be defined simply as abdominal pain. It is especially common in horses because of the design of their gastrointestinal tracts, which includes numerous bends, or “flexures” for food to pass through.
There are some general guidelines to follow to help reduce the risk of colic. One involves feeding. Horses should be kept on a regular feeding schedule, and at least half of the diet should be hay or forage. As much access as possible to forage should be provided. In addition, hay and water should be given before grain, and excessive grain intake should be avoided. Hay and grain should also be monitored to be sure no mold is present.
Another important aspect is water, which should be clean and readily available. However, when a horse is overheated, it should receive only small amounts of lukewarm water at a time.
Horses should be kept on a regular exercise schedule, and any changes to either diet or exercise should be made gradually.
Other cautionary measures include using medications only when necessary, checking for toxic substances in bedding, hay, or pastures, and controlling intestinal parasites.
Higher-risk horses include those in intense training and fit horses that have recently been injured.
Colic can range from mild to severe, and in the early stages it is difficult to tell which cases may become life-threatening. Therefore, it is very important that horse owners take colic seriously and act quickly to seek veterinary help.
Some of the common signs of colic include rolling, kicking at the abdomen, lying down more than usual or repeatedly lying down and standing up, sweating, an increased rate of breathing, and standing with the body stretched out, as if the horse were going to urinate.
In horses, violent behavior is a sign of great pain. This symptom demands an immediate call to the veterinarian. In less severe cases, the horse can be observed for a short while before the veterinarian is contacted.
Some information the vet may ask for could include behavioral signs, the horses’ general appetite and bowel activity over the last several days, recent changes in food or exercise, amount of recent water intake and medical history.
One of the more common types of colic is an impaction resulting from a firm mass of food blocking the intestine at one of the flexures. Gas is another common cause, resulting in pain from the intestine being stretched. Another type comes from the displacement of part of the intestine.
“Volvulus” or “torsion” is a type of colic that results from a piece of the intestine twisting. This requires immediate surgery. Another dangerous type comes from enteritis or colitis, an inflammation of the small or large intestines. Gastric distension occurs when a horse gorges itself or eats something that expands its stomach. Horses have small stomachs and cannot vomit, so distension can result in a ruptured stomach.
colic [Ko-lik] n. meaning "pain in the abdomen" or "pain in the belly"
We all know colic is a symptom, not a disease. It indicates a painful condition in the abdomen. The causes of colic are many and varied, ranging from mild and inconsequential to the life-threatening or fatal. One of the problems with equine colic is that it can be very difficult in the early stages to distinguish the mild from the potentially fatal. This is the reason all cases of colic should be taken seriously right from the start.
We always have a stethoscope in our first aid kits. I use a fetal stethoscope although while checking for 'gut sounds' the inexpensive one is just fine. You can pick these up at any drug store for under $20.00.
During a colic we check for gut sounds as well as heart rate, respiration, capilliary refill time, dehydration and temperature. We usually check the temperature at the base of the ears rather than stressing the horse any more than necessary. Bowel sounds are increased in spasmodic and flatulent colic while they are decreased in impaction colic and absent in peritonitis (twisted gut).
We also carry at least 2 litres of mineral oil in our first aid kit at all times. Do not feed vegetable or other oils during a colic as they tend to constipate the horse rather than loosen the compaction. At the first sign of colic, we give the horse the whole 2 litres with a syringe orally, without the needle of course. This should be done carefully because oils have no taste, so they are difficult to swallow and could end up in the lungs rather than the stomach.
Several different types of colic are:
(inflammation of the small (Enteritis) or large (Colitis) intestine)
* Flatulent (Tympanic) or Gas Colic
(gas builds up in the intestine)
* Impaction Colic
(intestines become blocked)
* Large Colon Impaction
* Sand Impaction (not normally seen in Central BC)
* Worm Impaction
* Rectal Impaction
* Spasmodic Colic
(abnormal spasms causing intestines to contract painfully)
(better known as twisted gut, causing complete blockages)
* Gastric Distension/Rupture
(horse gorges itself on grain or more seriously, complete or pellet feeds)
* Unknown reasons
Symptoms of Colic
* Elevated heart rate due to stress and pain (greater than 52 beats per minute)
* Rapid respiration and/or flared nostrils
* Profuse sweating
* Loss of appetite
* Putting head down to water as if to drink but not drinking
* Looking at abdomen
* Lying down more than usual
* Rolling, especially violent rolling
* Getting up and down repeatedly
* Sitting in a dog-like position, or lying on the back
* Curling the upper lip (Flehmen) and arching the neck
* Stretching out as if to urinate and often standing in that position
* Lack of bowel movement
Treatment for colic:
* Mineral oil (2 litres)
* Blanket the horse for the temperature
* Let the horse lay down but do not let it roll
* If you have hay or straw bales, use them to prevent horse from rolling over
* Walk with the horse when the horse gets restless
* Call and notify your veterinary
Always remember to place 2 or more hay or straw bales along the back of the horse when it is lying down. Never place them around a horses legs as they tend to panic. You are trying to prevent the horse from rolling over onto its back, not from getting back up. We do not want to stress the animal any further either. The bales are also a great place to sit while the horse is resting.
It is surprising what even the most experienced horse owner will do when their horse is the one in pain. I think that is why I like to work in teams, or will offer my help when a friends horse is in trouble. The bystander often thinks more rationally than the owner, which is normal human behavior.
The toughest part you will have to do is to stay calm, both inside and out. Our emotions have a "charge" which releases energy around our body. The horse will easily pick up on this energy, even when it is feeling poorly.