Colic simply means abdominal pain. There are many reasons for abdominal pain in the horse including, but not limited to: impaction, enteritis/colitis (infection of the small/large intestine), peritonitis, gas, sand, ulcers, a twist of the GI tract, an intussusception (telescoping) of the GI tract, parasite damage, neoplasia and rupture of the GI tract. Colic ranges from a minor ailment to a life threatening disease, so it is important for all horse owners to recognize the signs of abdominal pain in the horse.
The most common signs of colic are:
Lack of appetite or decrease in feed intake
If you find that your horse is exhibiting signs of abdominal pain, here are some steps you should take:
When we visit your horse to evaluate him/her for colic, we will do a physical exam, administer banamine if it has not already been done, possibly administer more potent painkillers, do a rectal examination to assess the position of the GI system and feel for impactions or stones, pass a nasogastric tube to check for reflux and possibly administer water, electrolytes or mineral oil. Other treatments may include placement of an intravenous catheter and administration of IV fluids, administration of psyllium, antispasmotics, and others.
Many horses will respond to these treatments and recover. However, some will become transiently better, and then become painful again. At this time, we may elect to pursue further treatment at the farm, or refer the horse for surgical consultation at a veterinary referral center. Unfortunately some colic does not resolve without surgery. Every horse owner should have a plan in place should their horse develop a surgical colic.
There are some important steps a horse owner can take to prevent colic. These steps can be divided into nutrition, exercise, deworming, and dental care.
Turnout or exercise help keep the horse’s gastrointestinal tract working and moving. Drastic reductions in exercise, such as stalling a normally turned out horse, can predispose them to impactions and colic.
Regular deworming is essential to preventing colic in horses. In addition to directly damaging the GI tract, internal parasites can migrate from the intestines to the blood vessels supplying the intestines, damaging the blood supply and killing parts of the GI tract. There are many adequate deworming programs. Ideally, if a horse is not on a daily dewormer, he/she should be dewormed every 8 weeks. Daily dewormers (such as Strongid C) are also an effective alternative to paste deworming. Please see the Preventicare website (there is a link on our links page) for information on a colic insurance plan offered to customers who purchase Strongid C.
Regular dental work enables your horse to grind his/her food to the appropriate size to be easily digested, preventing gastrointestinal upset and colic. Please see our dental article in our Summer 2005 newsletter for more information on the importance of routine dental care.