Colic: First Things First

Here are the steps to take and information to gather when faced with a colicking horse.
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Colicky horse
Common signs of abdominal pain include pawing, kicking at the abdomen, and rolling. Some horses spend time lying down or will make repeated attempts to lie down. | Photo: iStock

Steps to take and information to gather when faced with a colicking horse.

As you stroll into the barn one evening at feeding time, you notice an eager horse hanging its head over each and every stall door but one. Curious, you peer into your favorite gelding’s stall and see that he’s restless, pawing at the ground, and hasn’t touched his hay. Panic starts to set in … is he colicking? What do you do? How can you help him? Decision-making can be difficult when all of these questions are whirling about, so it’s best to learn how to manage colics ranging from mild to severe before you find yourself in this type of situation.

First things first—let’s define the word itself. Colic is a manifestation of abdominal pain. While horses colic primarily due to problems associated with the gastrointestinal tract, they occasionally colic due to pain from another abdominal organ or even a disease with signs that mimic colic.  

Colic is not a disease, but an outward sign of an internal problem with many potential causes. In simple cases, feed material might block the intestine. But in more serious cases pieces of bowel can become displaced and twisted, compromising blood flow to the intestine

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Written by:

Joan Norton, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, founded Norton Veterinary Consulting and Education Resources to promote equine veterinary education to horse owners, professionals, and veterinarians. She is the author of Equine First Aid Handbook.

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