What Your Veterinarian Wants You To Do When Your Horse Is Showing Signs Of Horse Colic

This article provides a guideline of what to do when a horse is showing signs of colic. Causes of colic vary greatly, and the first step is to consult your veterinarian in order to determine the appropriate course of treatment.

Colic is a broad, general term meaning abdominal pain. It can involve a range of systems, from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to the reproductive tract, or other internal organs such as liver or kidneys. Most commonly colic does refer to intestinal or ‘GI’ pain.

What Are The Causes Of Equine Colic?

Colic can be caused by a number of reasons and range greatly in severity depending on the cause and duration. Milder occurrences of colic tend to include causes such as gas, large colon impactions, and equine ulcers. Severe forms of colic may include torsions, displacements, volvulus and strangulations that could all end in dead intestine or rupture which are rapidly fatal to the horse.

As a rule of thumb, it is best to have your horse seen by a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Some causes, like an impaction which is easily treated in early stages, could cause the colon to displace if left without treatment.

What You Can Do While Waiting For Your Veterinarian:

  1. Give Banamine if you have some on hand. It should ONLY be given either in the vein or orally and never in the muscle as it can cause infection. Also, Banamine lasts 12 hours and should not be given more frequently than every 12 hours as it may cause kidney damage or aggravate ulcers.
  2. Walk your horse but not to exhaustion! Taking your horse on 10 to 15-minute walks may help with motility for mild colics but walking for hours just exhausts and dehydrates you and your horse.
  3. Let your horse lay down. Yes, many people want to keep them on their feet but actually, if they are quiet they may lay down. If they are hurting themselves or people are trying to help with intense rolling, they should not lay down. Some light rolling may actually help correct some types of colic.
  4. Never give an equine enema. Horses’ colons are much longer than humans, and therefore this treatment is ineffective in an adult horse and can cause a fatal rupture. Your veterinarian may attempt this for a specific type of colic but it is otherwise neither a safe nor effective treatment.
  5. Do not try to syringe your horse with mineral oil. If it is aspirated instead of swallowed it can cause a serious case of equine pneumonia. Also, for an adult horse, the dose is ½ – 1 gallon which would be very difficult with most horses to get them to consume without having it go through an equine nasogastric tube (the method administered by your veterinarian).
  6. Pastes from your feed store that claim to stop colic are largely ineffective and a waste of money. Most are just electrolytes which are fine for colic but some contain harmful ingredients.
  7. If possible, bring them into the clinic. Often times it is a safer environment and more diagnostics and treatments are able to be performed. With severe colic, time is of the essence, it is a waste of time and money to have your vet come to the farm. Even if you think your horse is going to go down in the trailer it is better to get him seen as quickly as possible in a hospital environment. In these cases, it is best to not tie your horse – if you have a stock type trailer leave your horse loose in it.
  8. It is important to be prepared for emergencies as they can happen at any time. Equine insurance helps with emergency medical bills that could reach thousands very quickly. It is important to have an established relationship with a local vet and to know where your nearest equine hospital is. It is also important to think about how much you are willing to spend on the horse and how far you would take treatment before you are in an emotional, highly-stressful emergency situation. Ask yourself if surgery would be an option and set a budget amount. 

Contributed by: Dr. Emily C. Thometz