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First Posted: May 2007
Jan 21, 2015

Equine Colic


Published on Jul 26, 2012/http://www.equinevetireland.com Equine/vet Warren schofield discusses Colic in Horses and helps owners understand this complicated problem.

New Study out of Finland: Gastric Impaction in Horses
Colic in Horses: When is Surgery Really Necessary?

New Study: SIU Research Looks to Solve Equine Colic Mystery "...Real-time access to a horse's digestive system, provided by SIU's cannulated horses, will help Venable and graduate student researchers identify the profile of bacteria present and how that changes with diet, stress and travel. Ultimately, that could contribute to a better understanding about what a horse really needs to prevent, treat, and recover from a colic episode...."

Recent Colic of one of our horses:

Recently one of our horses coliced. We had our first freeze the night before. The horses had been out on the grass for only 2 hours. We are careful to monitor their turnout. In fact, they are on the grass regularly, and usually for a longer interval of time (3 1/2 - 4 hours). Mindful of the increase in sugar after a hard freeze their time was reduced. In spite of that, my horse, who has never coliced, did. We gave him 8cc of Banamine at 7:15 AM and walked him. He did have a bowel movement that was normal while we walked him. He also did not go down, roll, kick at his flanks, bite at his flanks, etc. after the Banamine kicked in. (that took about 15 minutes with an intermusculine injection). We called the vet at 9:00 AM, when they open for regular hours and asked that a vet be sent to do a thorough check. The following is what was determined and what was done beyond our Banamine injection:

Patient History Note:

QAR (Quiet, alert, responsive) as opposed to BAR (bright, alert, responsive), temperature 99.2, Pulse 36, heart auscults wnl (Within Normal Limits), lungs are mildly harsh bilaterally, RR (Respiratory Rate) 20, GI (gastrointestinal) is slightly hypermotile all 4 quadrants. Administered 66 cc Buscopan IV. Rectal: Soft formed manure in rectum and small colon, no gross abnormalities palpable. Did not pass NGT (Nasal gastric tube). Did not sedate.

**Monitor closely. Keep track of manure output, water intake, appetitie, attitude. Call if any further signs of colic, any fever, cough, nasal discharge or any other concerns.

**Limit grass today, and gradually reintroduce grass over the weekend.

A Patchy was fine and showed no further symptoms. We kept him on hay only for several days and turned him out in the sacrifice area so that he could move about freely. Kate and I feel that if the horse is able to move about freely it jumpstarts circulation, gut, etc. It seems that this colic was only a gas bubble. Good thing! One question that I did ask Dr. French was now that A Patchy has coliced is he prone to it? You often hear that in the horse world. The answer was that in this case of gas colic--NO. However, if there is a structural colic, yes. Below you will see that there are 6 different types of colic that I have covered in this article.

Note Study: Association of admission plasma d-dimer concentration with diagnosis and outcome in horses with colic.

by Horse Health and my research

New Treatments for Severe Colic
Improving Gastrointestinal Tract Healing in Horses after Colic

10th International Congress of World Equine Veterinary Association/Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2008 Moscow, Russia/Colic

What Is Colic?

Colic is not a disease, it is the name given to a symptom - abdominal pain. Colic, or abdominal pain, is a common ailment in horses. More than 70 causes can trigger colic, including gas distention, food impactions, intestinal tract spasms, and intestinal displacement or twists. One of the more exotic forms is colic caused by enteroliths, or stone like formations that form in a horse's digestive tract.

There are a number of different types of colic:

Gas (or flatulent) Colic is the more common type. It occurs when there is a collection of gas in the bowel. It causes pain as it moves through the gut by distending the bowel abnormally. It is considered the least serious type of colic, although the violent reactions of the horse may not give that impression.

Obstructive Colic is when a mass of food accumulates in the bowel and prohibits passage through the intestines. This can happen if a horse bolts his food too quickly or is given inadequate water to drink.

Sand Colic is prevalent in sandy areas. It is caused by the accumulation of sand in the gut. Horse owners in such areas should take precautions to help avoid sand colic.

Twisted Gut is where a portion of the intestine becomes twisted. It is extremely serious. Small Intestinal Strangulation Obstruction, Colonic Displacement, or Colonic Torsion are the proper medical terms for this condition.

Enteritis/colitis is another instance of abdominal pain is caused by inflammation of the small (enteritis) or large (colitis) intestines. These are serious medical cases and require immediate veterinary attention.

Gastric distension/rupture is another possible problem. If your horse gorges himself on grain or, even more seriously, a substance which expands when dampened like dried beet pulp, the contents of the stomach can swell. The horse's small stomach and its inability to vomit can cause the stomach to burst. Once this has happened death is inevitable. If you suspect that your horse may have gorged itself on concentrate feeds, seek veterinary advice immediately.

A picture of the horse's gastro intestinal system will help in the understanding of why the horse colics. It is a complicated business. Often it is impossible to determine the reason for the pain and colic. Symptomatic treatment, close monitoring and attention to any adverse developments usually lead to resolution of the problem.

Causes of Colic

There are a variety of things that can cause colic in horses, among them:

Parasites

Both bloodworms and roundworms can cause colic - bloodworms (strongyles) by damaging the blood vessels supplying the bowel. Roundworms can reach such a high concentration that they block the intestine.

Sudden Diet Changes

Sudden changes in diet may cause colic. Any new feed should be introduced gradually.

Insufficient Water

Insufficient water or unclean water. Horses should always have access to fresh, clean water.

Irregular Feeding

Long intervals between meals may lead to the horse bolting his food down without chewing properly.

Symptoms of Colic/A Quick List
  • Lying down more than usual
  • Getting up and lying down repeatedly
  • Standing stretched out
  • Standing frequently as if to urinate
  • Turning the head towards the flank
  • Repeatedly curling the upper lip
  • Pawing the ground
  • Kicking at the abdomen
  • Rolling

Symptoms for Specific Types of Colic

In gas colic, the symptoms will be intermittent, with the horse going through quiet spells followed by violent spells. The horse may bite at his flank or roll. Even though gas colic looks violent and the horse is in a great deal of pain, the pulse usually does not rise above 50.

In obstructive colic, the consistent pain may cause the horse to paw at the ground and break into a sweat. The pulse may rise into the 60's. There will be an absence of abdominal sounds, which makes it easy to a veterinarian to diagnose this type of colic.

An elevated temperature, a pulse ranging into the 80's, and extreme pain that is non-responsive to medication often indicates vascular compromise of the bowel, requiring surgery.

Any colic should be treated seriously, as the average horse owner will not be able to tell which of the above types of colic their horse has. The amount of apparent pain is not always a good indicator of how serious things are. If your horse shows any signs of abdominal pain, you should call your veterinarian immediately.

Preventing Colic

While horses seem to be predisposed to colic due to their anatomy and the function of their digestive tracts, management can play a key role in colic prevention. Although not every case is avoidable, the following guidelines from the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) can maximize the horse's health and reduce the risk of colic:

  • Establish a daily routine - include feeding and exercise schedules - and stick to it.
  • Feed a high-quality diet comprised primarily of roughage.
  • Avoid feeding excessive grain and energy-dense supplements. (At least half the horse's energy should be supplied through hay or forage. A better guide is that twice as much energy should be supplied from a roughage source than from concentrates.)
  • Divide daily concentrate rations into two or more smaller feedings rather than one large one to avoid overloading the horse's digestive tract. Hay is best fed free-choice.
  • Set up a regular parasite control program with the help of your equine practitioner.
  • Provide exercise and/or turnout on a daily basis. Change the intensity and duration of an exercise regimen gradually.
  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times. (The only exception is when the horse is excessively hot; then it should be given small sips of lukewarm water until it has recovered.)
  • Avoid putting feed on the ground, especially in sandy soils.
  • Check hay, bedding, pasture, and environment for potentially toxic substances, such as blister beetles, noxious weeds, and other ingestible foreign matter.
  • Reduce stress. Horses experiencing changes in environment or workloads are at high risk for intestinal dysfunction. Pay special attention to horses when transporting them or changing their surroundings, such as at shows.
  • Do not unnecessarily change a horse's diet regardless of the horse's environment or use.
  • If changes in forage or concentrate are necessary, be certain to make these changes very slowly, preferably not at the same time as management changes.
  • Do not purchase a horse if you know it has a history of colic.
  • Virtually any horse is susceptible to colic. Age, sex, and breed differences in susceptibility seem to be relatively minor. The type of colic seen appears to relate to geographic or regional differences, probably due to environmental factors such as sandy soil or climatic stress. Importantly, what this tells us is that, with conscientious care and management, we have the potential to reduce and control colic, which is the number one killer of horses. Learn your horse's vital signs and be observant of anything out of the ordinary so that you can give your veterinarian as much information as possible.

    For more information about colic prevention and treatment, ask your equine veterinarian for the "Colic" brochure provided by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in partnership with Educational Partner Bayer Animal Health. Additional colic information is available by visiting the AAEP's horse health website, Colic.

    For More Information:

    Surgical vs. Medical Cecal Impaction Management
    Outcome of Surgical and Medical Management of Cecal Impaction in 150 Horses (1991-2011)
    Horse Colic
    Overview of Colic in Horses

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