Colic is a familiar term to horse owners and many wonder why their horse has the signs of it. Unfortunately this is often tricky to pinpoint as it is not a disease by itself but a range of signs that all are due to abdominal pain that isn’t always related to the gastrointestinal tract.

For this reason it can present as a wide range of signs and severity and may be self-limiting, intermittent, or the early phase of serious disease that can be fatal in some cases. Early veterinary investigation and treatments are important to spot the serious cases and get your horse back to full health and performance as quickly as possible.

Common signs associated with colic are:

  • Rolling
  • Kicking at the abdomen &/or pawing
  • Sweating
  • Lying down
  • Flank watching
  • No appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation.

More subtle signs may be:

  • Slow or intermittent appetite
  • Dull attitude
  • Stretching out
  • Teeth grinding
  • Reduced faecal output.

Each horse has a different way of responding to pain and depending on its cause signs may present differently. A dull horse sitting, not eating may have a far more serious colic than a horse rolling and thrashing.

If you suspect any sign of colic contact your vet immediately. Early detection and treatment of serious colic gives the best chance of avoiding costly complications and saving your horses life.

Common causes of colic include:

  • Increased gas production (common following diet change or flushes of grass growth)
  • Worm burdens
  • Displacement or twists of the intestinal tract
  • Infections
  • Gastric (stomach) ulcers
  • Dehydration
  • Stress
  • Dental disease reducing the ability to chew feed effectively.

Causes of false colic include:

  • Insect bites
  • Laminitis
  • Sheath infections
  • Heat stress
  • Myopathy (severe muscle damage)
  • Pyrexia (fever).

Many cases of colic can be resolved by medications your vet can inject for fast action. Many will only need one treatment, but some conditions require ongoing treatments that can be given at home by the owner.

More serious cases of colic often need oral or intravenous fluids, and in some circumstances horses require hospital treatment that may include surgery. If a colic cannot be resolved and pain cannot be controlled, euthanasia may be required to prevent undue suffering.