Abstracts and Studies

Have you ever heard horse people say that once a horse has coliced he is more likely to colic again? Have you ever heard that once a horse has had a twisted gut the more likely it is to happen again? I have seen this with some of my own horses, over the last 45 years, and also wondered if it were a truism. Often, as with people, I have said to myself that much of this is an inherited predisposition and/or environmental factors. I have preferred, over the years, to field board my horses as I feel it is a more natural situation. The field boarded horses coliced less than the horses in the stalls. Now a study has been done and has found that it is likely true.

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.

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

Symptoms of Colic/A Quick List

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.


Equine Vet J. 2014 Apr 16. doi: 10.1111/evj.12276. [Epub ahead of print] Management and horse-level risk factors for recurrent colic in the UK general equine practice population. Scantlebury CE1, Archer DC, Proudman CJ, Pinchbeck GL.
Author Information: 1Institute of Infection and Global Health, Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, School of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Wirral, UK.

Abstract: REASONS FOR PERFORMING STUDY: Recurrent colic occurs frequently in the general horse population but little evidence exists about what factors place horses at greater risk of recurrent colic.

OBJECTIVES: To quantify time-varying and non time-varying risk factors for recurrent colic among horses attended by first-opinion veterinary surgeons in northwest England.

STUDY DESIGN: Nested case-control study.

METHODS: A nested case-control study was conducted on data from a prospective longitudinal cohort study of 127 horses recruited subsequent to an episode of medical colic. Data were collected on management and recurrent colic episodes at 4-monthly intervals by telephone questionnaires. All recurrent colic episodes were selected as cases; controls were unmatched and randomly selected from all horse-time at risk. Data relating to the 30 days prior to the date of colic or control selection were used to determine exposure status. Multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to determine risk factors for recurrent colic.

RESULTS: In total, 59 cases and 177 controls were included. The final model showed that horses that displayed crib-biting/windsucking (odds ratio [OR] 10.1, 95% confidence interval [CI] 2.5-41.0) or weaving behaviour (OR 3.9, 95% CI 1.5-10.1) had an increased risk of recurrence of colic. Increasing time at pasture reduced the risk of recurrence (OR 0.99, 95% CI 0.99-1.0). A significant interaction was found suggesting that the risk associated with crib-biting/windsucking may be modified by feeding fruit/vegetables; however, further research is required before recommendations for feeding practices can be made.

CONCLUSIONS: This study suggests that sufficient access to pasture may be an important means of reducing recurrent colic risk. The behavioural risk factors highlight individuals who may be at increased risk of recurrent colic and whose colic prevention strategies should be carefully managed.

For More Information:

Surgical vs. Medical Cecal Impaction Management
Outcome of Surgical and Medical Management of Cecal Impaction in 150 Horses (1991-2011)
University of Liverpool/Colic
Colic in Horses
Horse Colic
Overview of Colic in Horses
First posted: Oct 8, 2014
Last update: Dec 10, 2014