"Colic is a general term that refers to abdominal pain in the horse. Signs of pain may range from mild (looking at the flank, lifting the upper lip, no interest in eating, kicking the hind legs up towards the abdomen) to severe (repeatedly laying down and getting up, violently rolling up onto their backs or throwing themselves down on the ground).
Horses exhibiting signs of colic should be examined by a veterinarian immediately. Most horses with colic can be treated medically but some may require surgical intervention. Delay in treatment can decrease the prognosis for survival" (ACVS.org, 2021).
Clinical signs depend on the cause of the colic and personality of the horse.
Inappetence (not interested in eating)
Looking at the flank
Lying down more than usual or at a different time from normal (Figure 1)
Lying down, getting up, circling, laying down again repeatedly
Curling/lifting the upper lip
Kicking up at the abdomen with hind legs
Rolling up onto back
Stretching out (Figure 2)
Dog-sitting (Figure 3)
Increased heart rate (normal is 28–44 beats per minute)
Visible abdominal distention (appearance of being bloated)
Less than normal to no manure production
Foals may roll up on their backs or grind their teeth and salivate excessively
Tips for colic prevention:
Here are some more recommendations to prevent colic from the American Association of Equine Pracititoners:
While horses seem predisposed to colic due to the anatomy and function of their digestive tracts, management can play a key role in 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, and then it should be given small sips of luke-warm 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 of intestinal dysfunction. Pay special attention to horses when transporting them or changing their surroundings, such as at shows.
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, the number one killer of horses.
Additional colic information is available by visiting the AAEP’s horse health web site, AAEP Horse Owners