Having a colic “game plan” in place will help you efficiently get through the scary period between noticing your horse has colic and when the veterinarian arrives. And, yes, you should always call your veterinarian if you suspect colic.
“Colic” isn’t a specific illness. It’s abdominal pain. Intestinal problems are the most common cause, but it could also be related to urinary tract, reproductive tract or liver disease, as well as tumors or abscesses.
The exact cause and treatment is a job for your veterinarian, but some simple measures like walking your horse can make him more comfortable and prevent him from injuring himself if he tries to roll.
At the first sign of colic, put a call in to your veterinarian. Even if your veterinarian says to watch for awhile before he/she comes out, or the horse snaps out of it, at least the vet was forewarned. Detailed information about the onset and the horse’s history will make diagnosing and deciding on treatment easier.
If you’re alone, try to find someone to come help you. A horse in pain can panic and act unpredictably. Fill out the colic checklist (see sidebar) and repeat this every 15 to 20 minutes, or sooner if there is a dramatic change.
Walking is often the best therapy you can provide, unless walking is painful for the horse. It helps distract the horse from the pain and helps move gas and manure along the digestive tract. Many mild-to-moderate colics have resolved through walking. In fact, the best thing you can do for your horse is keep him moving until your veterinarian arrives.
Prepare A Case History
While you’re waiting, note anything about the horse or recent management that could be pertinent. Make note of anything at all out of the ordinary you can think of, even if it doesn’t seem to be related. This includes:
• A recent change in feed/hay or recently given access to pasture,
• More or less exercise than normal,
• Changes in eating, drinking, urinating or manure,
• Stage in the estrus cycle if a mare,
• Recent breeding,
• Recent dewormings, medicines, or vaccinations,
• Access to natural water sources like ponds.
Although we realize you want to make your horse as comfortable as possible, some things can make matters worse. Be certain that you:
• Do not give any medications or “remedies” without clearing it with the veterinarian first.
• Do not allow the horse to roll. Gas-filled organs can become severely displaced with rolling.
• Do not allow the horse to eat or drink, even if he wants to. Horses don’t necessarily always know what’s good for them.
• Do not tidy up the stall or remove any manure/bedding before the veterinarian arrives. Many clues as to how the horse has been behaving and what might be going on with the intestinal tract can be found in the stall by an astute vet.
Note: Two conditions that can be easily mistaken for colic are acute laminitis and tying-up. This is because the horse will often assume the typical stretched out, sawhorse stance and in all three he’s in pain.
Horses with tying-up or laminitis will be extremely reluctant to move, if not flat out refuse to move. If you do force them to walk, the gait will be short-strided and mincing, with obvious bulging and often trembling of the hindquarters. If you’re not positive you can tell the difference, do not force a horse that vehemently resists walking to move. In any case, all three attacks require the help of your veterinarian.