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What is Horse Colic? | 9 Amazing Tips to Support Your Horse

Chris Price

An understanding of colic is hugely important for horse owners. Colic remains a huge problem worldwide, with an estimated 10% of all horses suffering from this condition at some stage in their life. Recognising the early signs can set owners up with the skills and knowledge they need, to respond quickly to support their horses.

horse colic

What is Horse Colic?

Horse colic could more simply be called ‘equine stomach ache’ but can be quite worrying and serious. However, the term stomach ache belittles how serious horse colic can be and the problem usually starts in the intestines. Even subtle changes in a horse can be a sign of more severe problems, with no two colic cases alike.

Perhaps 50% of all horse colic problems are extremely mild and disappear on their own with time. Another 30% of cases are a little more serious and need some attention and a further 20% need serious attention, with 2% of these needing surgeries to save the horse’s life.

What are the signs of horse colic?

When you see horse colic it is often easy to spot, with a lot of discomfort, restlessness, and visible signs by looking around at the belly. However, this could be a sign of many different problems from:

  • Worms
  • Kidneys
  • Liver
  • Ovaries
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Long term use of pain killers
  • Gassy bowels

Gassy bowel is by far the most common cause of horse colic and is closely connected to spasmodic colic, where the gut goes into spasms and cramps. This type of colic can come from any number of problems from:

  • A sudden change in food
  • Mouldy food
  • Allergies
  • Bad teeth
  • Too many bad bacteria in the gut
  • Drinking water to quickly
  • Stress
  • Parasites

Gas in the bowels makes the stomach distended. When colic gets really bad with spasms and cramps, the horse may even try to roll on its back to get relief. This in turn might cause the gut to twist making things much worse.

Other types of common colic include constipation or impaction. Sand colic is also a regular problem where the impaction is caused by sand collecting in the bowels and blocking the passageway.

“I remember the first really bad case I saw in practice in the New Forest where the poor horse was in incredible pain and when I felt inside with a rectal, had an awful twisted gut which caused her agony when I touched it. She had a heart rate of more than 80 beats per minute and could not be taken to the clinic, it was so bad she had to be put down within 60 minutes of the diagnosis.” – Stephen Ashdown

How can I avoid horse colic?

We all know how painful gut pain can be, it can be very debilitating and extremely worrying. In humans, it could come from appendicitis or simply too much rich food. Most of the colic cases I have been involved with are quite simple, although very worrying for the owners. These cases often respond well to instant solutions that deal with the pain and cease the spasms.

Our tips for avoiding colic:

  1. Any new feed or hay batches must be introduced gradually over a 10 day period
  2. Try to feed smaller amounts more often rather than 1-2 large feeds. Avoid high grain feedstuffs
  3. Maintain good parasite control
  4. Try to reduce sand burdens. Feeding Psyllium regularly can help with this issue. Avoid feeding hay off a sand surface. eg: In a menage
  5. Try to reduce stress levels as these can cause ulcers which can give colic-like symptoms
  6. Regular and consistent exercise and turnout are beneficial
  7. Feeding high-quality supplements that support digestion can also be of benefit
  8. Clean fresh drinking water supply
  9. Keep food clean and mould free

*Always call your vet in the first instance if you suspect your horse may have colic.

What Should I do if I think my horse has colic?

Horse colic can be very serious for horse owners, so always think of phoning your vet first. What can you do in the meantime? Remember that gentle walking is very important and even a handful of fennel seeds can do wonders. Fennel has been used like this for hundreds of years: peppermint, chamomile, aniseed, and ginger can also be extremely useful to soothe symptoms.

Our top tips for horses with colic

  1. Even mild signs can worsen very quickly, so a call to your vet is important
  2. Remove any feedstuff and water from the stable
  3. Do not give any medication without the approval of your vet
  4. Try to discourage your horse from rolling by walking. This can also help to stimulate gut motility
  5. Check on your horse every 15-20 mins

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