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Do's and Don'ts for a Horse with Colic

by Tiernan McKay
  • Overview

    If your horse shows signs of colic, act quickly.
    Colic is a term used to describe abdominal pain in a horse. It can be caused by gas, stool impaction, ingestion of a foreign object or parasites. When a horse get colic, every decision you make is crucial. Anyone who works with, rides, manages or is around horses frequently should know what to do and what not to do when a horse shows signs of distress, pain or discomfort.
  • Do

    Call your vet immediately. Colic can be fatal. It is not a condition that you want to address on your own. Only a vet should pinpoint the exact cause of the colic and recommend treatment.
  • Do

    Observe your horse's vital signs closely. Determine your horse's heart rate and temperature and take notes of any abnormalities such as muscle tightness, swelling or heat. Also take note of any manure in your horse's stall or paddock. It is important to know whether or not the horse has been able to pass stool recently.
  • Do

    Walk your horse. If he is able, slowly lead your horse around the barn aisles, pasture or paddock. Try to keep him moving but not to the point of exhaustion. Walking can sometimes get the gut moving, which will often relieve colic symptoms. It also prevents the horse from injuring himself by rolling. If it appears that he is tiring or sweating profusely, stop walking.
  • Do

    Keep your horse away from food and water. If a horse is allowed to eat or drink before a vet can conduct an exam and insert a stomach tube, there is a risk of rupturing the stomach, which could be fatal. Also, communicate closely with your vet. You may know your horse better than anyone, but a reputable vet has much more experience with colic, so their input is valuable. She may suggest treating the horse with mineral oil through a stomach tube, administering a painkiller, muscle relaxer or laxative. If surgery is needed, you will need to act swiftly, but be sure you and the vet are on the same page before proceeding.
    Allowing your horse to eat while experiencing colic could cause further damage.
  • Don't

    Don't wait. Seconds count when a horse colics. If you even suspect colic, get your vet involved as quickly as possible. Initially observing your horse for signs of colic is fine, but this is not time to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
  • Don't

    Don't administer any sort of medication without your vet. Even something as harmless as mineral oil or an enema can become deadly if given improperly. Always leave medication administration to the vet.
    Do not give your horse medication without a vet, even if he looks extremely sick.
  • Don't

    Don't allow your horse to roll or walk to exhaustion. Most horse enthusiasts know that walking a horse can cure a mild case of colic. Walking can also dissuade a horse from rolling, which they often try to do because of their abdominal pain. Rolling can cause a horse's intestine to twist, exacerbating the colic. While you don't want the horse to roll, walking the horse to the point of exhaustion will only worsen the condition. If the horse's condition has not improved after 15 minutes or so of gentle walking, stop walking. At that point, it is best to keep your horse in an enclosed area and monitor her until the vet is on scene.
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