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Colic is scary. When you horse starts to show symptoms of colic it can be easy to panic. You also get people on the complete opposite of the spectrum who see so much colic that they stop treating it like the emergency it is. But when it comes to treating colic, there is a 4 point check list you can follow as well as some key facts to bare in mind. Keep reading to find out how to treat colic in your horse.
What are the symptoms of colic?
Since colic can be caused by so many different things, it isn’t surprising that there are lots of different symptoms or signs of colic to look out for. Horses can have anything from 1 or 2 symptoms to everything listed. Typically owners will notice the behavioural signs that their horse isn’t quite right first.
Behavioural signs of colic
- Pawing the ground
- Frequent rolling
- Turning to look at flank or stomach
- Kicking at their stomach
- Lip curling
- Stretching out looking like they are going to wee
- Lying down and getting back up or lying down for a long time
Physical signs of colic
- Higher temperature
- Faster pulse rate
- Not pooing or pooing less
- Not eating/drinking as normal
- Unusual gut noises
What should you do if you suspect your horse has colic?
If your horse is displaying some of the common colic symptoms you should act quickly. While the majority of colic cases are minor, with horses making a full recovery, some cases can be fatal. Follow these steps whenever you suspect your horse might have colic.
1. Quick health check
Give your horse a quick once over, health check. Ideally you should know what your horses usual vital signs or TPR are. If the horse is comfortable to stand while you check their temperature, pulse and breathing rates do so. You should also check the colour of their mucus membranes (inside eyelids, gums etc) they should be salmon pink and if you press a finger too them they should return to this colour quickly. You should also check their feet for heat and and any signs of the horse tying up as these things can have similar symptoms to colic.
2. Check for poo
If your horse has been in the stable or individual turnout, check for any fresh/recent poos. More serious colic cases can cause a blockage, stopping them from pooing. So it might be a sign of something more serious.
3. Call the vet
No matter how mild you think it might be, you should always call your vet, especially if your horse hasn’t had colic before. You will be able to run the vet through everything you have looked at in steps 1 & 2, helping the vet to start to form a picture of what the problem might be. They will then be able to give you some advice and will make a decision on whether they need to come out to see the horse.
4. Keep close tabs on your horse
Follow your vets advice and keep a close eye on your horse. You will want to check them at least every 15 minutes, ideally more, in order to catch them if they start to deteriorate quickly. This might mean you will be there for hours, regularly checking them and possibly hand walking them. But horses with colic can quickly take a bad turn.
Home remedies to manage and treat colic
Whether you are waiting for the vet or are monitoring them, there are a few simple things you can do to help your horse get through colic.
Get them walking
If you arrive and your horse is already down and rolling, then the main focus should be to get them up and walking. If they are thrashing around they can risk more serious problems from injury. There is also a belief, although no evidence to back it up, that thrashing around could twist their gut. Once they are up and walking see if you can stop and start the above steps of what to do if you suspect colic. But if they just want to keep going down just phone the vet straight away. The vet will nearly always suggest walking them as it can cure about half of mild colic cases. It should be a brisk walk, but it shouldn’t exhaust the horse. 45-60 minutes is what is usually recommended.
Even if it seems like a mild case, after speaking to the vet, unless they suggest otherwise, I would always walk them. I might even walk them while on the phone to the vet if it is safe to do so.
Take away food and water
While wanting to eat and drink is often considered a good sign, depending on the problem it can cause more problems. So unless your vet says otherwise, remove any food or water until they start to look better.
Don’t over exercise them
Some people swear by a hard lunge for colic. While this can work for some colic cases, it can also make other cases worse. Only lunge or work the horse harder if advised by your vet.
Don’t medicate them yourself
I’ve been on many yards where a horse shows signs of colic and the owners reach for the bute. While this may be enough to “heal” mild colic, if the colic is something more serious it may mask problems when the vet comes to see them. Only medicate them if the vet has recommended you to do so.
Is going to hospital an option?
While it can sound extreme for what might seem like a mild colic, while you are monitoring your horse, you should be thinking about whether going to hospital is an option. Many vets will have facilities to monitor the horse 24/7 and administer drugs when needed. They should also be able to perform colic surgery if needed. You should have a rough plan in mind for how you could get your horse to the hospital. Do you have your own transport? A friend who could take you/let you borrow theirs? If not, have you got a number/contact for a transport company? Many will be available for emergencies like these.
You also need to think about what your insurance covers. Will they cover hospitalising over night? What about colic surgery? If not, can you afford it on your own? You will need to know this in case a decision is needed to be made quickly. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but it is something you hopefully have thought about at least once.
As with everything, there are a lot of myths out there surrounding colic. Some of them are harmless, but others could be harmful. So it is important to be aware of them when colic strikes.
You shouldn’t let the horse lay down
Colic can be very tiring on a horse. If they want to lay down they can. You only want to stop them laying down if every time they go down they start rolling.
If they are eating and drinking they are okay
While it is usually a positive sign if they want to eat and drink, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. As already mentioned, you should take food and water away unless the vet says otherwise.
If they poo they are okay
Again, pooing is usually a positive sign. But just with wanting to eat, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. The issue might be further up the digestive system.
While we can never completely prevent colic, we can change the way we manage our horses to help reduce the risk of them developing colic. Keep your eyes peeled for our next, and final, post in this series on colic.
Last Updated on 03/07/2021