Colic in Horses – Checklist

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Colic in horses is a very common disorder of their digestive system. The term colic, the basic definition means “abdominal pain”, but in horses is used to define severe abdominal discomfort characterized with rolling, pawing, and seldom the inability to defecate.

I Love Veterinary’s Checklist for Colic in Horses

colic in horses checklist infographic
  • HEART RATE
    mild: 40-60
    moderate: 60-80
    severe: over 80
  • RESPIRATORY RATE
    mild: 20-30
    moderate: 30-40
    severe: over 40
  • TEMPERATURE
    mild: 99-100.5 F
    moderate: 99-100.5 F
    severe: under 99/over 100.5 F
  • GUM COLOR
    mild: Pale pink
    moderate: Pale pink
    severe: Bluish or purple
  • CRT (Capillary refill time)
    mild: Between one to two seconds
    moderate: Two to four seconds
    severe: Over five seconds
  • GUT SOUNDS
    mild: Normal or increased
    moderate: Decreased frequency
    severe: Absent
  • FECES
    mild: Normal
    moderate: Small balls of feces
    severe: No feces/diarrhea
  • GASES
    mild: Present
    moderate: Absent
    severe: Absent
  • LVL OF PAIN
    mild: Looking at the belly, stretching, pawing, sweating, lifting the hind legs.
    moderate: Looking at the belly, stretching, pawing, sweating, lifting the hind legs, trying to roll on the ground.
    severe: Looking at the belly, stretching, pawing, sweating, lifting the hind legs, trying to roll on the ground, uncontrollable attempts to roll and thrash.

What is Colic in Horses?

Colic is the term used to describe a condition that affects mostly ruminants, but can also affect horses. The condition arises when digestive matter moves in an abnormal fashion through the gastrointestinal tract.

Signs of Colic in Horses

Colic is a digestive disease that drastically affects the horse’s well-being and can even be fatal. The colic may affect the intestines, stomach, or both at the same time. Colic signs are divided into four groups to facilitate their identification:

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Abnormal gait
  3. Restlessness
  4. Severe colicking phenomena

Causes of Equine Colic

The causes of colic are manifold but can be classified into two main categories:

Intestinal colic

This comes from an obstruction in the intestine that prevents food to pass through it smoothly. This obstruction is usually caused by a solid object, but can also be due to swelling of intestinal contents because of gas entrapment (“the bloated”), or intussusception when one part of the intestine slips inside an adjacent part of the intestine.     

Gastrointestinal colic is the result of incoordination between all the organs involved in chewing and digesting food, which causes a spasmodic contraction of the muscles meant to push the food forward from one organ to another until it reaches the stomach. The abdomen fills with gas each time this coordination breaks down. This can be due to colic-causing factors such as:

  • Infection (bacteria, virus)
  • Toxins (plants or poisonous bites that damage intestinal cells)
  • Internal abscesses (identification of which is extremely important for colics that come from bacterial)
  • Metabolic colic (hypocalcemia, colitis)
  • Sanitary colic is colics caused by external factors such as:

-Digestive disorders (acute intestinal pain)

-Excessive ingestion of food or water

 -Getting into problems while being carried in a trailer during transportation

External Colic    

External colic sources are the most common ones since many times they are impossible to avoid or detect until it’s too late. To avoiding colic cases, horses must be fed carefully and regularly, kept in stabling at night, have their teeth checked on a regular basis, and maintain an adequate level of hydration.

Moreover, equine veterinary care should not be postponed when the horse shows colic signs.

The Different Types of Equine Colic

Colic is categorized into four types, colic mild-to-moderate, colic severe-to-acute, colic with distention, colic with impactions, or mechanical obstruction. Treatment varies depending on the type of colic your horse exhibits.

This article will outline treatment for colics in general and will go over each category individually at a later date.

Symptoms of Colic in Horses

Symptoms of colic include kicking at their belly or sides because it hurts, not wanting to eat or drink, becoming quiet after having been very vocal before, and general lethargy.

Treating Equine Colic

The general colic treatment for horses is a combination of medications, supportive care, and some manipulation to clear the intestinal blockage. Surgical colics require additional treatments including surgery itself, antibiotics, and intravenous fluids.

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