Colic is not a diagnosis in itself but is a term used to describe signs of abdominal pain, usually arising from disturbances in the intestines. Signs vary from mild to severe and can include inappetance, lying down, kicking at the abdomen or pawing the ground, flank watching, restlessness, sweating, increased breathing, violentally rolling or straining as if to urinate. Other causes of pain which may be confused with colic including tying up, pelvic fractures, ovarian pain and laminitis.
There are over 70 different types of intestinal problems that cause colic signs. Fortunately the vast majority of horses with colic only require medical treatment, however, severe cases of colic are life threatening and require surgical intervention.
Reasons for colic can generally be divided into various categories:
Spasmodic: This is the most common type of colic and usually responds well to pain relief and anti-spasmodic medications. It may occur due to a number of reasons including changes in diet or management, stress, transport or worm infestations.
Gas: Gas can build up in the intestines, usually due to changes in feed, especially the consumption of highly fermentable feeds such as fresh rich grass. This can be very painful but, again, usually responds well to medical management.
Impaction: This is when a large amount of dried food causes a blockage in parts of the large intestines. Possible causes include changes in diet, reduction in exercise, travelling or dehydration. This type of colic usually responds well to treatment which typically includes providing large volumes of fluids, liquid paraffin and electrolytes directly into the stomach via a nasogastric tube.
Displacement: An area of the intestine becomes displaced and may get trapped in the wrong part of the abdomen. Occasionally this can be treated medically although usually this will require surgical intervention.
Strangulations (twisted gut): Parts of the intestines can be twisted or trapped which causes the blood supply to be constricted. This is extremely painful and required rapid surgical treatment.
Colics can not always be prevented but you can help reduce the risks by being consistent in your horse's management, making any changes to diet or work gradually, not allowing your horse to gorge on fresh pastures, keeping up to date with your worming protocol and ensuring your horse has his teeth checked regularly.
If you think your horse is showing any signs of colic contact us immediately. Diagnostic procedures including rectal examinations, auscultation (listening via stethoscope) of the gut sounds and placement of a stomach tube can all be performed to assist in diagnosing the reasons for the colic and determining if surgery may be required.
PLEASE REMOVE ALL FOOD whilst awaiting for the veterinarian to arrive, fresh water can be provided if your horse wishes to drink.