Caitlin UltimoHealth / Symptoms & Solutions

Horse Colic: Symptoms and Prevention

Have you ever heard the phrase “healthy as a horse”? While horses are phenomenal animals that are often bred for athleticism and build, they are not as adaptable as you may think. Though some horses do wonderfully in changing atmospheres, most take time to adjust, even a change in feed or water quality can cause colic in horses.

What Is Horse Colic?

Horse colic is a condition marked by symptoms such as “repetitive pawing; biting of the flanks or the belly; circling; or laying down, getting up and laying down that may result from anything that causes abdominal pain,” says Dr. Chris Downs, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and owner of Chicago Equine Medical Center. But “it all depends on the individual horse.”

So, what is horse colic? Oftentimes a major health concern in the horse care world, colic in horses is separated into two categories: surgical and medical, explains Downs.

The common causes of surgical colic are: intestines moving into an abnormal position, or possible obstruction by fatty tumors and foreign bodies, says Downs. “When a horse walks into the clinic, I look at if it is medical or surgical,” Downs says. “Good management can prevent most medical colics, but most true surgical colics are likely to occur with any reasonable management.”

Though surgical colic in horses is typically unavoidable when it occurs, “where people can impact colic and lessen the chances of it happening to your horse is on that medical side,” Downs states.

“There are two common types of medical colic: gas colic and impactions, and obstruction with manure,” says Downs. “Neither one of those, typically, becomes a surgical issue if they’re managed appropriately.” Because serious medical colic can be avoided with early intervention, Downs says you can avoid it with “good, quality nutrition; access to clean, fresh water at all times; small, frequent meals throughout the day; and routine dental care.”

Treatment Options for Horse Colic

While a medical colic can be induced by multiple causes, such as a drastic change in feed quality or quantity, or even weather, the symptoms, and therefore treatments, can range from light exercise to drug administration and an emergency visit with your local vet clinic.

To best keep your four-legged companion away from having horse colic issues, horse care supplements such as AniMed Natural AniPsyll Horse Supplement promote gastrointestinal health throughout the horse’s digestive tract. Additionally, limiting your horse’s time spent grazing on fresh, green springtime grass by starting him out in a Tough-1 Breathe Easy Grazing Horse Muzzle allows his system to slowly adjust to the nutrient-rich turf. Lastly, encouraging your horse to eat throughout the day and slow his food intake with a Derby Originals Supreme Four Sided Slow Feed Hay Bag along with a fresh supply of water will keep his chances of experiencing a medical colic in horses low and managed.

“In general, I don’t recommend making any dramatic, abrupt changes to a horse’s management,” says Downs. “For somebody to go from one barn to another and get slightly different grass hay probably won’t matter, but you don’t want to go from a grass hay to a sudden high concentration of alfalfa, because you may predispose that horse to gas colic.”

Making any horse care changes gradually will keep them their happiest and healthiest, and hopefully, colic-free.


Dr. Chris Downs does not endorse individual supplements, vendors or products. Any reference in this article to specific supplements, vendors or products does not constitute or imply the endorsement, recommendation or approval of Dr. Downs or Chicago Equine Medical Center.

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