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Friday, 25 October, 2019

Colic, what is it and how can we avoid them?

1st cause of death in horses, colic is a concern for owners and equestrian centers. They are among the most common and serious disorders in equines. They constitute the veterinarian's first reason for emergency calls and the leading cause of horse mortality. In this article, we explain how to avoid them and how to react when your horse is showing signs of colic.

1. What is colic?

Well known to the general public as a definition of diarrhea for humans, horse colic has only one thing in common: the name!

Equine colic refers to all abdominal pain in horses. So we're talking about colic syndrome and not disease. They can occur in case of anxiety, too fast food intake or parasitism. A change in diet or an excess of legume can also be the cause of colic.

Despite his robustness, the horse has a complex and fragile digestive system. This is related to the presence of many nerve endings in the intestines that respond to the slightest abnormality. The digestive system is especially fragile because the horse’s stomach is very small and his small intestine is very long, hence the importance of splitting the horse's diet into several meals a day.

If the colic syndrome is so dangerous it is because unlike humans, the horse is unable to vomit to get ride of excess food (when his stomach is too full or his digestion is blocked).

There are different stages of the syndrome. Be aware, however, that many colic resolve within 24 hours of the first symptoms. Hence the interest of knowing how to detect them in time and act effectively!

2. How to detect it?

Colic in the horse manifests itself in different ways:

  • he looks at his flanks
  • he gets up and lays down as if something is bothering him
  • he scratches the floor for no reason
  • he rolls insistently
  • he has difficulty urinating
  • he sweats excessively or inappropriately
  • he breathes more heavily than normal and his nostrils are dilated

What about the heart rate?

If your horse has colic, his heart rate will increase. Thus, knowing the heart rate of your horse at rest is an essential prognostic element to monitor the evolution of the pathology. In case of colic, a heart rate higher than 100 beats per minute will be indicative of a serious degree of gravity.

A horse that does not have temperature but whose heart rate is very high when he is at rest, should be seen quickly by a veterinarian. This information will indeed be very useful to get an idea of ​​the state of emergency.

Each animal reacts in his own way and it is rare for a horse to have all of these symptoms. At the first sign of discomfort or pain, call the veterinarian. It is often benign, but it can degenerate and therefore deserves to be taken seriously.

3. How to (re)act?

First of all, it is important to assess the condition of the horse. If the horse seems slightly down but starts to lie down long enough or look at his sides, you can go and walk your horse and cut off his access to any food.

If someone is qualified, they can inject a simple analgesic such as noramidopyrine (Calmagine) intravenously.

In case of doubt about the seriousness of his colic, or if the condition of your horse remains a concern, it is important to call the veterinarian urgently to avoid any aggravation or pain!

First equine veterinary emergency 🚨, colic can be due to a blockage that has formed and is having difficulty evacuating. The horse may also suffer from a torsion of the large colon or other reasons that only a veterinarian can treat. In some of the most serious cases, surgery may be necessary.

The return of droppings is often a sign that transit is beginning to be restored, but vigilance is still required.

4. Prevention rather than cure!

Here are some tips:

  • Continuous access to water is necessary for the well-being of the equine animal, furthermore the dehydration of the horse increases the risk of colic.
  • In the stable, if the horse is prone to colic, it is advisable to regulate his feeding intake, for example by replacing the straw (responsible for many colic) with a bedding made of wood chips.
  • In the meadow, when the grass is greasy and the new shoots are rich in nitrogen, if the horse eats excessively, using a specific basket for a few hours during the day reduces the risk of gaseous colic. There are even baskets such as the Greenguard basket used for horses that are a little too greedy;) which is worn continuously and limits excessive grass intake. Be careful ⚠️ these colic are mainly present in older horses, more sensitive and are therefore to be watched with great vigilance.

Find it on thefetlock.com

We hope you enjoyed this article!

See you soon,

The Seaver team



(1) https://equipedia.ifce.fr/sante-et-bien-etre-animal/maladies/systeme-digestif-et-parasitisme/origines-des-coliques.html

(2) PhD thesis 2006 Laure WALTER (Veterinary School of Maisons-Alfort, France)

(3) PhD Thesis 2008 Anne SAVOIE (Veterinary School of Lyon, France)