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Colic Kills: Be Aware
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Colic Kills: Be Aware

Early yesterday morning our ranch was the victim of colic.  We lost a beloved member of our family; Moose was only eight years old.  Watching the amount of excruciating pain Moose had to endure before it claimed his life made me determined to do my part in spreading awareness of what colic is and how to prevent it.  No horse or owner should ever have to go through colic.

The first thing to know about colic is that it can happen at any time, anywhere, to any horse.  Horses are delicate creatures and their digestive systems should always be handled with extreme care.

What is Colic?

Horses have a one-way digestive tract, as opposed to humans who have a two-way.  In other words, horses cannot throw-up.  If they get an upset in the system it cannot come back up.  The word “colic” simply refers to abdominal pain.  This can include a number of abdominal and intestinal problems, extending from simple excess gas to severe entanglement or twisting of the intestines.  All colics begin with mild pain and subtle symptoms.

How To Spot Colic

Sweating, pawing, and rolling are the most obvious signs of colic, but other mild differences in a horse's behavior can signal you to the condition in advance.  A horse in the beginning stages of colic develops an anxious, distracted look. His eyes may not be focused on his surroundings, and he may remove himself from the herd or not react right away to activity going on around him.  Refusal of food is a sure sign that the horse is experiencing discomfort.

What To Do

ALL colics are emergencies and a veterinarian should be contacted IMMEDIATELY.  Now that you’ve called the veterinarian, what should you do while waiting for him/her to arrive?

Do not allow the horse to eat.  Even though interest in feed is a good sign, it could cause the colic to become more severe or hinder the oral treatments the vet will administer.  As I said earlier, a horse in severe colic will not want to eat, but remove all hay and feed from the horse just in case.

The big question is whether or not to walk the horse, as this is usually a person's first reaction to a horse exhibiting colic symptoms. It is commonly believed that if a colicking horse rolls, he will twist an intestine.  However, in the majority of cases, rolling is not going to contort the intestine. Most twists and displacements actually happen while the horse is standing, and rolling is an effort to get comfortable.  If the horse lies down and stays down calmly, even in an unusual position, leave him alone. If he wants to get up and change positions occasionally and then lie down again, leave him alone. If he is frequently getting up and down and trying to roll, walk him around.

Do not medicate the horse before the veterinarian arrives, unless instructed to do so by the vet over the phone.  Many commonly used sedatives and painkillers lower the levels of intestinal movement and could actually make the colic worse. Others may affect heart rate or lower blood pressure and can put the horse at risk of shock.

How To Prevent Colic

Unfortunately there are so many different things that can cause a horse to colic and can happen to even the most well-cared for horses.  But there are some things you can watch out for to help keep this tragedy from occurring.

Get your horse on a good feeding program with small meals spread throughout the day and STICK WITH IT.  Anytime you introduce something new to your horse's diet, do it gradually with a little bit at a time.  Your horse should have access to good hay and fresh water at all times.

Regularly check your pasture for trash and debris.  Baling twine left behind is another common source of impaction in a pasture horse's gut.  Parasites can also cause intestinal distress, so keep your horse on a regular worming schedule.

Bottom line Know your horse's diet!

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. Sam and Zoom
    Sam and Zoom
    First of all, I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of Moose... so sad to lose a horse that young. I wanted to add a few things from my own experience with colic. Access to fresh water is paramount, especially in the winter. We've had the most problems with colic when barns we boarded at were not vigilant about keeping water buckets de-iced in the winter time. Water is necessary for digestion! That said, nutrition and what ends up in your horse's stomach aren't the only things that can cause colic. We recently lost our 24-year-old Arabian, Mo, to colic caused by a benign fatty tumor called a lipoma. The stringy fat deposit had wrapped around his intestine in two places, cutting off the blood supply. Lipomas are common in aging horses, so even if we had opted for surgery, it would have happened again. Unfortunately his condition worsened very quickly and he was unable to be saved.
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