What Is Colic in Horses?

horse with colic

Colic in horses, just as in babies, describes abdominal pain. But unlike in babies, the cause of colic in a horse differs. In horses, the condition occurs when your horse has gastrointestinal tract issues. When your horse has colic, it will start to act differently.

While gastrointestinal issues may not seem like much of a problem, colic is very dangerous. It is among the most prevalent causes of death in horses. The fatality rate from colic used to be higher a few years ago, but the medical prognosis for the condition has become better. With early intervention, you can save your horse’s life.

What Causes Colic in Horses?

While colic is usually the main suspect of abdominal discomfort and pain in horses, it is not the only one. Sometimes, your horse may have abdominal pain due to ovarian issues, laminitis, or bladder stones. When any of these cause colic-like symptoms, it is often called fake colic. Despite this, it is essential to get a vet in as soon as your horse starts showing signs of abdominal pain.

Colic pain may happen due to the stretching of the gut wall by feed material or gas. It may also occur when the gut or intestine gets abnormally stuck somewhere, and the blood supply is shut off. It may also occur due to cramps or intestinal muscle spasms.

Types of Colic

Colic has been proven to be related to various conditions:

Stomach Distention

The horse has a relatively smaller stomach than other herbivores of the same size. A small stomach means limiting how much they eat is essential. If your horse overeats grain in a single sitting, it may fatally rupture its stomach.

Displacement Colic

Displacement colic is one of the more severe forms of the condition. The intestines of a horse are usually suspended in the gut by the mesentery, meaning they are mobile. The mobility that comes with this type of biology predisposes a horse to various complications. One is that the intestines can become twisted, leading to restricted blood flow. When this happens, the horse will require immediate surgery to rearrange the intestines and cut out damaged intestines.

Also, large and small intestines may become displaced, causing restricted blood flow and pain. Displacement colic usually occurs when there is excess gas that builds up. The gas makes the intestine more liable to move and so twist. This form of colic always requires quick surgical intervention.

Impaction Colic

Impaction colic occurs when the large intestine folds up on itself, leading to changes in the structure. The folds cause changes in diameter and direction, priming itself for complications. Changes in diameter can lead to impaction when a mass of food or foreign object blocks the intestine. Impaction often results from dehydration, coarse feedstuff, sand, or other foreign material accumulation.

Gas Colic

When gas accumulates in the stomach and the intestines, it causes gut distention and abdominal pain. Excessive gas can come from bacteria in the gut after consuming a large amount of moldy feed. To relieve this form of colic, the vet uses a nasogastric tube that helps release the trapped gas.

For more about colic in horses, call Chaparral Veterinary Medical Center at our office in Cave Creek, Arizona. Call (480) 595-8600 to book an appointment today.