Colic in horses - all you need to know | Animal Friends

Horse / Colic in horses – all you need to know

Elena Barnard

Animal Friends Pet Insurance

As a horse owner, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of colic – a term for abdominal pain experienced by humans and animals alike. It’s caused by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract, and if not properly treated, is one of the most common causes of mortality in horses.

Here is a run-down of the symptoms that you should keep an eye out for in your horse, as well as some suggestions on how to help alleviate the symptoms for your horse.

Young horse with colic.

The Causes of Colic

The diet of horses has changed drastically when compared to their ancestors, and yet the digestive system of a horse has not quite evolved to suit their current dietary habits. Because of this, a horse’s gut and intestines are prone to digestive upset. This can take the form of intestinal spasms caused by stretching of the gut wall, which leads to the symptoms associated with colic.

As herbivores, horses have a large absorptive area in their gut, which leaves them vulnerable to toxins. This is because horses don’t have the ability to vomit, a function that is the quickest means of removing toxins or indigestible food from the digestive system.

Domesticated horses are most commonly susceptible to colic due to their restrictive eating habits. Naturally, horses would spend 16 hours a day grazing on low-energy food whilst on the move. However, domesticated horses are now more likely to be regimented with two feeds a day, with long durations of stabling without being able to graze or exercise.

Colic Symptoms in Horses

Colic can be experienced in many forms, ranging from being fairly mild to quite severe. Here’s a list of symptoms that you should keep an eye out for with your horse:

  • Restlessness
  • Lying down and getting back up
  • Lying on their sides for extended periods of time
  • Rapid breathing
  • Posturing to urinate frequently
  • Irritated kicking, aimed especially at the stomach
  • Violent rolling

While symptoms of colic can surface in different ways, these are the most common ways to identify this issue with your horse.

If you do suspect that your animal is experiencing colic, getting your horse checked out by a veterinary surgeon during the early stages can drastically improve the success of treatment. Owners of horses with a history of colic should be especially weary of any recurring symptoms.

What to do if your horse has colic

As you wait for the vet, there are a couple of measures you can take to help alleviate the pain of your horse. For instance, to reduce the risk of injury, do all you can to create a safe area within a stable so that your horse cannot accidently hurt themselves as they may try to get down and roll. Making sure the stable is well bedded with hay is one possible solution to this.

Unless your vet has told you otherwise, it is advised that you remove any feed from their stable. Water should also be removed if your horse appears to be in severe pain, although any contact with your horse if it is displaying severe symptoms should be avoided unless a vet accompanies you.

If your horse’s symptoms aren’t severe however, it may help to take them on a 15-20-minute walk as long as the exercise does not become strenuous such as at a trot or canter. After your horse has been diagnosed by a vet, you may be recommended other exercises for your horse as well.

Preventing Colic

You can help reduce the risk of your horse experiencing colic by effectively managing the contents of their diet. Ensuring their feed is of high quality and has high fibre content will help alleviate the stress placed on your animal’s gut.

If you make changes to your horse’s diet, it is recommended that you introduce these slowly, so that their digestive system can adapt. Frequent dental checks can also help reduce the likeliness of colic, as poorly chewed food can often lead to issues with the intestines.

As you can see, colic can be a severe problem for any horse owner. However, if you keep a lookout for any tell-tale signs as well as being considerate of your horse’s dietary needs, colic should not be something to be majorly concerned about.

In any case, we offer a range of horse insurance policies that can help keep your horse protected in a case of colic.

Young weanling horse lying down in stall with sunbeams shining looking tired exhausted sleepy sad sick depressed alone relaxed

Hello, fellow animal lovers! I’m Elena, and I take care of social media for Animal Friends Insurance. I’m here to share the latest on animal welfare, our charity work and pet care. I foster and adopt rabbits and have a rescue dog called Luna.