Colic is any condition where a horse shows signs of abdominal discomfort and/or pain. It is a diagnostic challenge for a veterinarian and a source of anxiety to horse owners.

Colic can have multiple causes. It can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (occurring repeatedly over time).

Colic signs may be mild (e.g. poor appetite, dullness, diminished fecal passage, etc.) or severe (e.g. rolling, pawing, lying down, biting at sides, reduced manure, etc.).

If your horse acts colicky, please DO NOT MEDICATE HIM before you speak with the doctor; the medication may mask symptoms and make diagnosis difficult.

Call Dr. Werner promptly so he can diagnose and treat your horse’s condition quickly and accurately.

Diagnosing Colic

  • We need a detailed history of the colic episode from the horse owner/caregiver. A history helps us form an appropriate diagnostic plan and affects how we interpret our examination findings.
  • Changes in how you manage your horse are important considerations. Colic can be triggered by changes in water or feed, administered medications, ongoing health issues, recent transport or disruption of a horse’s social order in a herd.
  • Dietary risk factors for colic may include unpalatable water, decreased pasture grazing, recent change in hay or grain and the use of round bales.
  • If a horse shows repeated colicky behavior quickly after analgesics (pain-relievers) were given, that behavior can signify a more serious problem and may indicate surgery is needed.
  • Medical findings and procedures can help us make accurate decisions about a colic case. These include: rectal examination findings, abdominal fluid quantity/quality, an absence of intestinal sounds and a patient’s failure to respond to treatment.
  • Ultrasonography is an important, non-invasive diagnostic aid in diagnosing colic. It helps us assess stomach and intestinal wall thickness, the location of abdominal contents, small intestine diameter, and presence/quality of abdominal fluid.
  • Diagnostic laboratory testing (evaluating blood and peritoneal fluid) can give us important insights for diagnosis and prognosis in colic patients. Measuring serum and peritoneal lactate levels can help us decide whether to recommend referral for surgery or intensive care.
  • Abdominal radiography can be a valuable diagnostic tool when a foal has colic,
  • If a horse has colic repeatedly, gastric videoendoscopy (imaging the horse’s stomach) may be indicated.

Treating Colic

  • colicPassing a nasogastric tube to treat gastric distension can be useful in colic cases. The quality/quantity of any significant gastric reflux (regurgitated fluid) is often key diagnostic information.
  • Maintaining adequate hydration in a colicky horse is important. We may administer fluids intravenously and/or by nasogastric tube.
  • We often recommend that you withhold feed until a colic episode is over. Post-colic, we may ask you to hand graze a patient several times a day for the first few days and offer grass hay several times each day to aid recovery.
  • If we cannot accurately diagnosis a colic case or provide effective therapy at Werner Equine, Dr. Werner may refer your horse to a specialist.
  • If you’re your horse has colic surgery, it is important that you follow the doctor’s patient aftercare instructions carefully. Doing so can minimize the chances and possible impact of infection, hernias at the surgical incision site, laminitis and complications linked to intravenous catheterization.

Call us at 860.653.5088 to learn more about Colic care at Werner Equine.