Equine Colic

Did you realize that the #1 killer of horses is colic?

 If you have ever known someone who lost a horse to this condition, you know that colic can go from being uncomfortable to abdominal pain, going from mild to severe very quickly and it should always be tended to as quickly as possible in order to prevent such an awful loss to your farm and home.

TheACVS(American College of Veterinary Surgeons)writes that 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).

And they went on to say on their website that Medical treatment generally consists of:

·      Analgesia given intravenously (Banamine or sedation)

·      Laxatives administered directly into the stomach via nasogastric tube (mineral oil or magnesium sulfate/Epsom salts)

·      Re-hydration with oral or IV fluids

The majority of horses with colic will respond to medical treatment.

NOTICE: If the horse remains uncomfortable, prompt re-examination by your veterinarian and possible referral to a surgical facility should be considered.

Surgical treatment should be considered if the horse remains uncomfortable demonstrating the above-mentioned signs of colic despite medical treatment or if there are specific indicators that were found by your veterinarian during medical workup that would indicate a surgical problem.

Surgical exploration by an ACVS board-certified large animal surgeon is performed at a surgical facility after placing the horse under general anesthesia with anincision made on the ventral midline. Many causes of surgical colic can be corrected; however, there are certain causes of colic that despite the most aggressive surgical approach and treatment, survival is guarded. Your surgeon may be able to determine that at the time of surgery.

Surgical success rates have improved dramatically over the years due to early referral and prompt surgical intervention.

It is difficult to watch and know that your horse is in distress but quick diagnosis can make all the difference to your horse and you.  

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. 

Aftercare andOutcome: 

Horses treated medically will typically be withheld from hay/grain until signs of colic have diminished. Once the colic signs resolve feeding will resume gradually based off of your veterinarians' recommendations. Depending on the suspected cause of colic, preventative measures such as having the horse’s teeth floated, instituting a farm specific/appropriate deworming strategy or changing the type of feed or method of feeding may be recommended.

Horses treated surgically will typically require hospitalization for 5–7 days after surgery for continued monitoring for postoperative complications, administration of antibiotics, analgesics, intravenous fluids and to slowly start the horse back on feed ensuring no additional signs of colic. Specific post-operative recommendations will vary dependent on the surgical diagnosis, postoperative healing process, behavior of your horse, stabling/turnout facilities, etc. Generally, horses will need at least 3 months off from riding with an initial period of strict stall rest before resuming gradual increase in turnout followed by gradual increase in exercise/training or being ridden under saddle.

Prognosis varies greatly depending on the cause of the colic and how systemically compromised the horse was at the time of surgery and if there were any postoperative complications. However, horses that are treated medically or those treated surgically that did not require removal of any portion of the intestine have a good prognosis.

We realize that not every case of equine colic can be avoided, but with experience and knowledge, and the quick attention from a qualified veterinarian can make all the difference for your horses.  


The AAEP(American Association of EquinePractitioners has listed the following guidelines to maximize the horse’s health and reduce the risk of colic:

1.    Establish a daily routine and stick to it. This includes feeding and exercising schedules.

2.    Feed your horses a high quality diet comprised primarily of roughage.

3.     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.) 

4.     4. 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. 

5.     5. Set up a regular parasite control program with the help of your equine veterinarian. 

6.     6. Provide exercise and/or turnout on a daily basis. Change the intensity and duration of an exercise regimen gradually. 

7.     7. 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.) 

8.     8. Avoid putting feed on the ground, especially in sandy soils. 

9.     9. Check hay, bedding, pasture, and environment for potentially toxic substances, such as blister beetles, noxious weeds, and other ingestible foreign matter. 

10.  10. 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. 

11.  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.

12.  For more information about colic prevention and treatment, ask your equine veterinarian for the“Colic” brochure, provided by the American Association of Equine Practitioners in partnership with Educational Partner Bayer Animal Health. 

We truly believe that knowledge is power and can make all the difference for anyone who owns horses for years, and especially people who are new to horses.

Please share this information with anyone you know that cares for or is around horses to help prevent and treat equine colic.