How to spot Colic in Horses

The term colic means “pain in the abdomen” and there are many causes of this potentially life threatening illness in horses.

Symptoms of colic can be difficult to spot but we have pulled together the key points that could help you detect the illness early on.

Signs of colic

There are many signs to watch out for when identifying colic in horses; the horse’s behaviour will typically become restless and irritated. Signs include:

  • Restlessness and pawing at the ground
  • Sweating and increased breathing rate
  • Irritated kicking to the stomach
  • Stretching as if to urinate
  • Rolling or attempting to roll
  • Elevated pulse rate

There are many causes of colic, ranging from simple indigestion to a twisted gut, however management techniques can help to increase the prevention of colic but not eliminate it.

A few tips on colic prevention

There are some simple ways to reduce the risk of your horse or pony getting colic. Always make sure there is a constant supply of fresh water and plan a diet with high fibre content, using hay or other high fibre equivalent feeds.

A regular exercise plan will ensure your horse is fit for work and will stop you from overexerting him or her. A post-exercise cooling off period is also key to lower the heartrate and relax your horse before it goes back to eating hard food.

For horses that have previously had colic it’s essential that they are regularly monitored. It’s always good to keep all horses turned out in the paddock as much possible, however ration lush spring grass, treating it as a change of diet to the horse.

What should you do if you spot colic in your horse?

Colic should be treated as an emergency and the vet should be called as soon as possible.

If your horse shows symptoms such as the ones listed above, or any other unusual behaviour which could indicate discomfort, call your vet. Taking the animal’s temperature, pulse and respiration rates are the best places to start as they will give you an idea of whether there is anything else that could be wrong.

Check with whoever feeds the horse and also the area where it is kept to see if it has had access to any unusual food. Make sure that the drinking water is clean and not contaminated and that the horse has been drinking and eating regularly.

Always remove any feed or hay away from the horse and check the area is safe, especially if the horse is trying to roll. If the horse is anxious, rolling or restless, and is in a safe area such as a large stable, keep watching but do not interfere.

If you suspect your horse has mild symptoms, walking gently may help, but always follow your vet’s advice and do not put yourself or the horse in danger of injury.

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