How to Diagnose and Treat Equine Colic

Equine colic is a relatively common disorder of the digestive system. Although the term colic, in the true definition of the word, simply means “abdominal pain,” the term in horses refers to a condition of severe abdominal discomfort characterized by pawing, rolling, and sometimes the inability to defecate.

The severety of Colic in a kid and Colic in a horse are on opposite ends of the spectrum. When dealing with Colic in a horse, you have to act fast. What you do in those first few hours are crucial to whether or not your horse will survive. It’s a fairly dangerous problem in horses. It’s one of the most common causes of death. But don’t worry, you can get your horse through it most of the time.

The first thing to do when determining whether or not your horse has Colic is to watch their behaviour. The most obvious sign is when your horse rolls. Rolling once is okay, but constant rolling over a small period of time isn’t normal and indicates pain in on your horse’s stomach. Most likely if your horse is suffering from Colic he will roll, get back up, paw at the ground and get back down, then roll again. Your horse may also kick at their abdomen. Another obvious sign is if your horse has pooped or not. This is one of the first question your Vet will ask you when you call. When they last went to the toilet and if they have, they’ll have you staring at it and giving you a discription of whether or not it’s normal. If you know your horse, you’ll know what’s normal and what isn’t.

What to do when your horse is Colicking

First of all, you need to make sure you keep your horse moving. Put a halter on him and lead him up and down your farm, keeping him moving. If your horse is distressed at the walk, then don’t over exercise him. You want your horse to stay off the ground though, to avoid a twisted gut. Walking can also relieve some pain. Sometimes just walking them around can make them poop, but only in mild cases.

Next, you need to call your Vet. You can wait it out if you have the right medicine but only if you know the signs of serious Colic. Personally, I wait 30 mins to an hour before calling a Vet and I treat it myself. I only call the Vet if my horse is showing no signs of feeling better after I’ve given her 10ccs of Banamine.

Banamine brand of flunixin meglumine is the pioneer injectable nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug approved for cattle and horses in the United States. It is something we give to our horses here if in severe pain and they need to relax.

I don’t like injecting it because once I did it wrong and gave my horse a nasty lump on her neck and it’s scarred me from wanting to do it again although for some reason I can do it on horses that aren’t mine no problem, so I give it orally. It takes a little longer to get into their system but after 20 minutes or so, it kicks in. If your horse continues to Colic after medicated then it’s definitely time to call your Vet. If you’re not familar with Colic then call your Vet right away! They will talk you through what you need to do until they arrive! The important thing is not to panic.

When your Vet arrives, they will check your horse’s vitals then do a rectal examination to check for impaction. They will then pump their stomach which is rather interesting to watch if you haven’t seen it before. Horses cannot throw up. What goes in, has to come out the other end but obviously if it can’t because of an impaction, they will pull what they can,  through the tube. They put it up their nose, down their Eshophagus which then ends up in the stomach. Using clean water and mineral oil, your Vet will use a pump connected to the tube to get the oil into their stomachs which comes back through the inserted tube. It’s kinda messy and your horse will need sedating in order to do this, to make it more comfortable for him.

Once your Vet is happy with how much they pumped out, they will do another rectal exam and check vitals again then they will give you further directions on how to treat your horse. Usually once the impaction has been lifted, your horse should start to feel better shortly after but if they continue to roll during the night or when the Vet has left, you will most likely need to have them come back out. Depending on the severity of the Colic, they will recommend how long to go without feeding your horse. This will make a very angry horse but you cannot fill them up with food once they’ve Colicked. You’ll be told to reduce their feed, use Bran Mash for their evening feed and then after a few days, start to give your horse feed again starting with a small amount, gradually building back up to your original amount.

An important thing to look for is gut twisting. It’s very hard to determine this so I 100% recommend having your Vet determine this. If a horse’s colon (gut) is twisted, he will need to have Colic surgery. Twisted colons cut off the blood supply which impairs it’s normal barrier protection, which then releases toxins in large quantities into your horse’s system, which can be fatal. Actually, I won’t sugar coat it, a twisted gut is fatal if you do not send your horse in for surgery.

Colic surgery is EXPENSIVE and is not guranteed to work. In older horses, your Vet will probably recommend to have him put to sleep rather than risk a $10,000 surgery that might not even help the horse. Some older horses don’t survice the surgery. This is completely up to you. So this point in Colic is what you need to avoid. Sometimes the gut has twisted before you even arrive at the barn. It depends on how long your horse has been Colicking. But walking your horse and giving the problem immediate attention lowers your rate of a twisted gut.


Most common causes of Colic:

  • Change in feed type, change in forage type (Going from no grass to extreme amounts of grass)
  • Sand Colic (A common problem in Florida where too much sand gets in their stomach)
  • Drastic change in weather
  • Age
  • Ingesting mouldy feed or hay

When changing a horse’s feed, this can make them sick. Their stomachs cannot handle such drastic changes in feed, it’s why we feed them the same stuff every day. When you want to swtich from one feed to another, you have to do this over a period of time, mixing the two different feeds in small quantities and slowly eliminating the old feed.

When living in sandy areas like Florida, you need to de-sand your horse once a month or use mineral oil in their feed once a week to relieve the sand. Basically you need to give them laxatives so they can poop all the sand out.

Drastic weather cannot be helped. Going from hot to cold in Florida, I see horses Colic a lot. It cannot be helped but the good thing about weather inforced Colic is that most of the time, it isn’t serious and a shot of Banamine usually helps them feel better.

Things to remember when your horse has Colic

  • Do NOT feed your horse – More than likely he won’t be interested in feed, but my horse sometimes is. She’s a greedy shit and thinks it’s okay to continue eating. An impaction will worsen if you feed them.
  • Give them access to clean water – Make sure it isn’t too cold
  • Get them off grass, into an area with restricted forage
  • Do not cut corners – I only treat it myself at first because I have dealt with it so much over the years and I know at what point I need a Vet!!! Just call the Vet right away!! I don’t want to be blamed for a dead horse
  • Do not assume that when he has been treated, that he is better – You will need to monitor your horse closely for several hours after

I hope this has helped 🙂


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Hi friends, welcome to my blog. I'm just your not so average stay-at-home mum who likes to write in her spare time. I have 3 little cuties who are my entire world but I also have a life outside parenting which I like to write about too. I love photography, music, health & fitness, cruelty-free cosmetics and a hell of a lot more.

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