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Signs of Colic in horses & how to keep your horse safe reading-time-icon 2 min read

‘Colic’ refers to abdominal pain, which mostly comes from the gastrointestinal tract.

Occasionally, the pain may stem from problems with the urinary tract or reproductive organs.

Some forms of Colic are mild and go away quickly with very little intervention. Other forms can be far more serious, even life-threatening, so if you’re worried that your horse may be suffering from Colic, it’s important to always consult your vet.

Signs of Colic in horses

Sadly, no 2 cases of Colic are the same. There’s a large variety of signs to watch out for, including:

  • General restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Flank watching
  • Rolling, lying down or sitting like a dog
  • Pawing at the ground
  • Curling of the top lip or grinding of the teeth
  • Sweating
  • Belly kicking
  • Quick, heavy breathing
  • Stretching

Remember: these symptoms aren’t exclusive to Colic. If your horse is behaving strangely, contact your vet as soon as possible. They’ll be able to diagnose your horse’s condition and recommend a suitable treatment.

horse lying down in field

Types of Colic

There are 3 main types of Colic:

Spasmodic Colic – The most common form of Colic, Spasmodic Colic is when the bowel contracts in an abnormal way, creating painful spasms or cramps.

Impaction Colic – An obstruction of the bowel, Impaction Colic can generally be treated easily with fluids and electrolytes – although severe cases may need surgery.

Displacement/Strangulation and Torsion Colic – Generally a far more serious form of Colic, this can cause sections of the bowel to lose their position and in some cases, become strangulated or twisted.

Diagnosis and treatment

First off, the vet will take a full history of your horse: their age, any history of Colic, the last time they went to the toilet and so on. They’ll then perform a physical examination, which will likely include a rectal exam; once this is complete, the vet will diagnose your horse and recommend a course of treatment.

Treatment can include pain killers, fluids, electrolytes and in extreme cases, surgery. It all depends on which form of Colic your horse is suffering from, as well as the severity of their symptoms.

What can be done to prevent Colic?

Sadly, there’s no sure-fire way of ensuring your horse never gets Colic. That said, certain healthy habits will help to keep the odds in their favour:

  • Regular teeth-cleaning and great dental health
  • A good worming programme
  • A diet rich in fibre
  • Avoiding sudden changes in management

Need more info?

For more help and advice on spotting and treating Colic in horses, have a chat with your local equine vet.