What to do if Your Horse is Colicking

Last Updated on March 15, 2022 by Allison Price

Colic (or abdominal pain in horses) can be short-term, mild, and often go unnoticed. However, it can become a severe, persistent discomfort that cannot be corrected even with surgery. All horse owners should know what to do and not do when their horse is suffering from colic.

What to do if your horse is colic?

You should remove any food from your horse and place him in a safe place. Collect all vital signs, then call your vet. Your vet will need to know the following information to determine if your horse should be seen.

  • Symptoms of colic and severity
  • Pulse (or heart rate)
  • Respiratory rate (breaths per Minute)
  • Rectal Temperature
  • Color of the gums: white, pale pink or dark pink; red or bluish purple
  • Moistness (moist, tacky or dry) of the gums
  • Time for capillary refill
  • Digestive sounds (if there are any)
  • Bowel movements including color, consistency and frequency
  • Recent changes in management, exercise, or feeding
  • Medical history, including past episodes of colic and deworming
  • Pregnancy status and breeding history
  • Horse insurance status

Here are some things you shouldn’t do if your horse colics

You don’t have to keep your horse standing or walking all the time. It is simply not true that horses roll their intestines. Handwalking is fine and helpful, but it’s not recommended that horses rest until their vet arrives.

Horse is Colicking

You should not give any medication by injection or mouth unless your vet has specifically instructed you to do so. Some medications can mask signs. Your horse may temporarily appear better when your vet visits, but your horse will start showing signs again as soon as they leave. Some medications may be too strong. You don’t want your horse to be misinformed about any medication. Even if you feel comfortable giving an IV or IM injection to a calm horse, it can be more difficult with colicky horses.

What to do if the vet visits you for colic?

Your vet will either start treating your horse immediately depending on the severity of your horse’s pain or review some facts with your. You should be prepared to give a detailed history, including your horse’s feeding schedule, exercise routine, vaccinations, recent travels, and any observations. Your vet will then perform a physical exam, which could include a rectal examination, passing a stomach tube, and drawing blood.

Your vet will assess your horse and determine if you can provide medical treatment. This could include pain-relievers or sedatives, fluid therapy (either via stomach tube or IV catheter) and laxatives like mineral oil. You may also refer your horse to a veterinary clinic for treatment. Although it is not always easy to determine when colic can be treated medically or surgically, a horse that has a high heartbeat, returns quickly, has a rapid rate of pain, and shows signs such as a twist or displacement, may need surgery. It can be easier to decide to take your horse to surgery, which often requires you to make the decision late at night.

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