Colic is one of the most frequent reasons that an owner will call the vet.

What is colic?

Colic is a description of the symptoms associated with abdominal pain.

Many owners are familiar with these symptoms. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Disinterest in feed
  • Restlessness
  • Reduce d faecal output
  • Sweating
  • Flank watching
  • Repeatedly getting up and down, or rolling; this behaviour can be very violent
  • Kicking at the abdomen

If you recognise any of these symptoms, it is best to telephone us to speak to a veterinary surgeon and/or arrange a visit.

 The causes of abdominal pain are various, and differ in severity. The most common examples are as follows:

  • Spasmodic colic – this is the result of ‘over-activity’ and spasm of the gut, resulting in sharp bouts of pain. This can frequently be managed by administration of a ‘spasmolytic’ drug and some pain relief
  • Tympanic or ‘gas’ colic – this is the result of gas accumulation in the intestines. The pain can vary from mild to severe depending upon the degree of intestinal stretch
  • Impaction – this is the result of a build-up of ingesta in the intestines, most often the large intestine. Most cases will resolve with medical management, but a small proportion of cases will require surgical intervention
  • Displacement – this is where a portion of gut moves abnormally within the abdomen. The severity of pain is variable. Obstruction of the flow of ingesta may result. A proportion of these will require surgery
  • Strangulation – this is the result of partial or complete obstruction to a portion of the blood supply to the gut resulting in death of intestinal tissue which will consequently require removal. As a result, for this type of colic urgent surgery is indicated

Minimising the risk of the occurrence of colic:

FEEDING: avoiding sudden changes in type of diet or quantity, maximising intake of forage, ensuring a plentiful supply of fresh drinking water is available (check for ice in water buckets in paddocks in winter), avoid grazing on sandy pastures, do not feed unsoaked sugar beet or grass cuttings

WORMING: maintain a strategic programme including faecal worm egg counts and use of wormers as advised by your veterinary surgeon

DENTAL CARE: ensure your horse is examined  by your qualified equine dental technician or veterinary surgeon at least once yearly, and more frequently if advised due to complex dental issues

EXERCISE ROUTINE : try to maintain a consistent routine for your horse and be extra vigilant if a horse that is used to being turned out is suddenly put on box rest. If any change in intensity or duration of work is anticipated, do this gradually. Feeding immediately before or after exercise  should be avoided

What should you do whilst waiting for the vet?

  • On contacting the vet they will ask questions as to the duration, signs of pain, temperature, frequency of droppings and recent changes in routine.
  • Remove feed from the stable
  • Water can be left in if the horse is only mildly painful and standing calmly
  • Walking gently for 15-20 minutes may be helpful if possible, but do not endanger yourself if the horse is trying to roll
  • If the horse is rolling violently, the horse should be moved to a ‘safer’ place where possible to reduce the risk of injury to self
    • A well-bedded stable; remove buckets etc to prevent injury to self
    • A school, kept on a lunge line (wear a hat to protect yourself)

Always be aware that a horse in significant pain is not conscious of its surroundings and therefore you should always look out for your own safety when handling a horse with colic.

Please remember that the large majority of episodes of colic can be managed without surgical intervention.

And do not panic! We will always endeavour to be with you as quickly as possible


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