‘Colic’ is the term to describe all types of abdominal pain found in horses. Colic can occur in horses of all ages, types, and breeds. It can vary from mild discomfort that eventually resolves itself to a life-threatening emergency that may require surgery. Most cases of colic can be resolved through medication and an evaluation by a veterinarian.
However, 5-10% of cases will require colic surgery. It can be difficult to determine which colic case fits into which category since almost all colic types will look the same at the beginning. Since it is so difficult to decide what type of colic your horse has, it is imperative that the veterinarian is called immediately so appropriate treatment can begin as quickly as possible.
Types of Colic
Gas Colic: Gas colic occurs when there is a large buildup of gas within the horse’s intestines.
Spasmodic Colic: Horses can develop spasmodic colic from having intestinal spasms or cramps. This type of colic may also have intestinal hyper motility.
Impaction Colic: Impaction colic occurs when partially digested feed builds up in the large intestine and stops moving which results in an impaction. With impaction colic, the horse will not be able to defecate.
Sand Colic: Sand colic usually develops in horses that live in sandy areas or are being fed on sandy grand. The fine particles of sand build up in the large intestine and cause a blockage.
Twisted Gut: A twisted gut develops when a part of the intestine twists or inverts into itself. This type of colic is uncommon but is life threatening.
Displacement/Entrapment Colic: Displacement colic occurs when the intestine moves around in the abdominal cavity. Displacement colic is a serious condition because the shift in intestinal location stretches the blood supply and can also result in the intestine being compressed.
Causes of Colic
Some of the most common causes of colic include:
- Moldy feed
- Abrupt change in feed
- Lack of water leading to impactions
- A diet of mostly grain and not enough roughage such as grass hay
- Sand ingestion
Signs of Colic
The signs of colic can be hard to spot in mild cases and can become violent in severe cases.
- Getting up and down repeatedly
- Kicking or biting at their abdomen
- Repeatedly rolling
- Frequently curling their upper lip
- Excessive sweating
- Lack of normal gut sounds or an abrupt change in normal gut sounds
If your horse starts to show these signs, you should call your local veterinarian immediately.