This week we delve into the mysterious conundrum of colics. Anyone who’s ever had to stay up an entire night or ship a horse off to the hospital for a bout of colic knows it’s not a fun ordeal. So, get out your Pony Club manuals and see how much you know.
What are five types of colics?
What are some symptoms of colic?
What do you do if your horse colics?
1. Spasmodic colic: this is caused by cramps or spasms of the bowel.
2. Gas colic: this is caused by a build up of gas in the intestines. Eating spoiled feed or grass clippings can result in fermentation, which produces gas.
3. Impaction colic: this is caused by indigestible material collecting and blocking the bowel. This can be caused by swallowing sand, lack of water, or enteroliths. An enterolith is basically a stone that is found in the intestinal tract. It typically starts with a foreign piece of material and then minerals (that are found in feed) form around it to produce a rock.
4. Thromboembolism: (this is fun to listen to Pony Clubbers try and pronounce at their rating) this type of colic is caused by worm larvae that invade blood vessels that supply the intestines. A clot can form and block off blood supply to part of the bowel. (Part of why a consistent de-worming routine is important.)
5. Obstruction: this type of colic is caused by a twisted bowel, or when it “telescopes” on itself (intussusception). Lypomas are often a concern as well. A lypoma is a fatty tumor that is connected to a thin fibrous tail, the tail can then become twisted around parts of the bowel and cut off blood supply.
When horses are just beginning to colic the symptoms are usually relatively mild. They may start to look at their barrel, stop eating, or begin to act restless. They may also start to paw, curl their upper lip, stretch out as if to urinate, or lie down and get up multiple times. Pulse rate will be slightly higher.
As the pain becomes more severe, the horse can become violent, progressing from simply laying down and rolling, to thrashing. The horse may begin to look anxious, paw, kick or nip at his belly, and break into a sweat. Some make it really easy and just lay lateral and groan…loudly. Pulse rate will also elevate, as will respiration rate.
Your horse’s mucus membranes (gums) can tell you a lot about his condition. A normal color is pale pink; some horses will be slightly injected (meaning you can see smaller darker veins). If his gums are bright red this could indicate mild shock or toxicity. If his gums are slightly blue it could indicate severe shock. Normal saliva is runny and slippery; a sick horse will often have thicker, sticky saliva on his gums.
Knowing your horse’s capillary refill time is helpful also. If you firmly press a finger to your horse’s gums for 2 seconds (long enough to create a white mark), how long does it take for the color to return? A normal time is 1-2 seconds. Any longer could indicate dehydration or shock.
Gut sounds. If you have a stethoscope, use it. Place the stethoscope behind the last rib and listen for sounds. Typically a lack of sound is more indicative of a colic than an excess of sounds.
Every horse is different, so their reaction to pain will be different. It’s very important to know your own horse and his vitals. Some horses can be incredibly painful, but so stoic that their heart rate and respiration rates will barely change.
What do you do?
Record vitals (because I can never remember them) and call your vet. In cases of mild colic, Banamine will often be prescribed. Typically it’s best to wait until your vet tells you to give medication otherwise you risk masking the pain that could help diagnose your horse. While waiting on your vet, walk your horse slowly and record vitals periodically. If he starts to pass gas or manure and vitals seem to be improving you can put him in a small paddock or stall and continue monitoring vitals. If condition worsens, its up to you and/or your vet to make the call on a hospital.
How’d you do?