Chronic Colic in Horses

Chronic colic in horses presents a unique challenge and creates a diagnostic puzzle for veterinarians to piece together. Here’s how they approach it.

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chronic colic in horses
Chronic colic typically causes mild to moderate discomfort over days, weeks, or months. | Photo: iStock
It’s bad enough when a horse colics once, but dealing with a “serial colicker” can be frustrating for owners and veterinarians alike. Horses with chronic colic present unique challenges and create a diagnostic puzzle for veterinarians to piece together.

“We’ve all seen them, we’ve all dreaded them,” said Michelle Barton, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM. “They’re a different worry—will I be able to find a cause and treatment to prevent another recurrence, versus the situation with an acute colic episode, which is typically determining a single treatment plan.”

Nonetheless, veterinarians unravel complicated intermittent colic cases on a regular basis. At the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Focus on Colic, held July 16-18, 2017, in Lexington, Kentucky, she described the steps veterinarians take in diagnosing chronic colic, along with some of the issues that can cause it. Barton is a professor, director of clinical academic affairs, Fuller E. Callaway Endowed Chair, and Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor in the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Large Animal Medicine, in Athens.


Barton said chronic colic typically causes mild to moderate discomfort over days, weeks, or months. It’s often owner-treated with veterinarian assistance and an open diagnosis, meaning nothing has been definitively diagnosed

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Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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