Colic in Horses: Causes, Symptoms, and How to Treat It

Angela Vuckovic
by Angela Vuckovic

Colic is a frequent ailment in horses. In general, the term colic refers to any abdominal pains, but most commonly those affecting the gastrointestinal tract. If you are a horse owner, old or new, you are bound to come across this health problem in your horse sooner or later. But it should not be the cause of too much worry, as colic is treatable and is relatively common. Understanding what causes it, its symptoms, and how best to prevent it, will help your horse immensely as you’ll be able to react on time.

Colic commonly refers to the issues a horse may suffer with its gastrointestinal tract. The microflora within a horse’s GI tract is unique and can be sensitive to a variety of things, and it is important to remember that colic can result from many things. One of the more common causes of colic in horses is moldy or dirty feed. If the food you are giving to a horse is tainted in any way, it can lead to colic and the build-up of gas within the GI tract. Always make sure that the feed is stored in a clean and secure place, elevated, and given within an elevated feeding through. Other common causes of colic are high grain diets, a sudden and radical change in feeding, not enough water consumed, ingestion of sand or dust, or a parasite infestation. Interestingly, some antibiotics can also create colic, in the case that they alter the microflora of the horse’s gut. This can affect digestion and cause issues. 

As you can see, colic mainly comes about from feed and feeding issues. Insufficiently chewed food due to dental pains can cause colic, as can a feed of very coarse hay. Overfeeding, of course, will cause colic and bloat as well. In order to be able to react quickly and fix this issue, you will need to look out for the common signs of colic. One of the usual signs is rolling: if it is done often and in uncommon situations, it can be a way for your horse to relieve discomfort due to colic. Pawing the ground is another sign, as is sweating, apathy, loss of appetite, bloated stomach, general distress, anxiety, or a weird posture. If you spot any of these uncommon behaviors, it could be your sign to talk to a vet. 

Together with the veterinarian, you should go over the possible causes of the appearance of colic. Could it be some tainted feed? A dental issue? Or overfeeding? In order for the ailment to be treated correctly, you’ll have to get a good idea of its causes. Depending on the result, the vet will administer appropriate medication, which will hopefully treat the colic. Some more extreme cases of colic that cause gut impaction (blockage) and similar issues, might require urgent surgery. 

Of course, there are steps all responsible horse owners can take in order to prevent the onset of colic and to keep their horses healthy as ever. If the colic appeared and has been solved, then fix the mistakes that caused it. Otherwise, you should stick to the basic rules of equine care. Don’t change your horse’s feed abruptly and radically. If you have to change it, do so slowly and over time. Also, keep a regular feeding schedule, feed portions according to weight and energy spent, and provide clean and fresh feed at all times. The same goes for water, which should always be fresh and clean. The feeding and drinking places should ideally be elevated so as to not be contaminated by dirt or mold, and you shouldn’t feed your horse off the ground. Also, make sure that your horse has a chance to exercise and spend some energy. It helps with digestion and many other things. And last – but certainly not least – ensure your horse gets regular vet checkups. 

Taking care of all these things and following all the crucial steps can help keep colic at bay and your horse happy and healthy. It is, after all, a major responsibility to care for such a magnificent and powerful animal.

Angela Vuckovic
Angela Vuckovic

A proud mama to seven dogs and ten cats, Angela spends her days writing for her fellow pet parents and pampering her furballs, all of whom are rescues. When she's not gushing over her adorable cats or playing with her dogs, she can be found curled up with a good fantasy book.

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