A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic

A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic

A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic

A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic

As horse owners and lovers, we can attest that equine colic is incredibly scary and ever-present in the lives of every human in the industry. If you're new to horses, colic is a common and potentially serious gastrointestinal disorder that affects horses of all ages and breeds. 

Its prevalence is a cause for concern among horse owners, as it can lead to discomfort, pain, and even life-threatening complications. In this article, we will explore why horses are so susceptible to colic, share some statistics surrounding colic cases, and focus on the best route of action/prevention. 

Remember, knowledge is power when it comes to colic. The more you know, the sooner you can spot potential issues if or when they arise. 

What is Colic?

The American Association of Equine Practitioners reports that for every 100 horses, there will be 4.2 colics annually. In short, colic refers to various gastrointestinal disorders in horses that cause abdominal pain. 

There are different types of colic that you should be aware of, and these include:


Gas colic in horses occurs when excessive gas builds up in the gastrointestinal tract and can be caused by factors like rapid changes in diet, fermentation of undigested food, or ingestion of gas-producing substances.


Impaction colic results from accumulating dry, indigestible material in the horse's intestines, causing a blockage. It is often linked to inadequate water intake, coarse or poorly digestible feed ingestion, or insufficient exercise. Impaction can also happen after sedation or surgery, as the digestive tract slows down.

A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic


Spasmodic colic is characterized by intense, intermittent spasms of the intestinal muscles, leading to abdominal pain. The cause is often related to irregular peristalsis, dietary changes, or stress.


Displacement colic occurs when a segment of the intestine shifts from its normal position and gets trapped, leading to a blockage. Factors like vigorous exercise after eating or underlying gastrointestinal issues can cause displacement colic.


Torsion colic, also known as volvulus, involves the twisting of a portion of the intestine around its mesenteric axis. This twist leads to compromised blood flow and severe pain and requires immediate surgical intervention.


Sand colic is caused by the accumulation of sand in the horse's intestines, often due to the ingestion of soil or sand while grazing. Over time, the sand buildup can irritate the intestinal lining and lead to colic symptoms. Many supplements are available to help horses who graze or eat in sandy areas prevent sand buildup. 


Strangulation colic occurs when a portion of the intestine becomes trapped or twisted, leading to a complete blockage and loss of blood flow. This severe form of colic requires urgent surgical intervention to save the horse's life.

Each type of colic presents unique signs, such as pawing, rolling, restlessness, sweating, loss of appetite, and frequent lying down and getting up. Identifying colic can be challenging, as the symptoms may mimic other illnesses like UTIs and muscle inflammation.

Making a prompt and accurate diagnosis is critical for effective treatment.

What to Do if You Suspect Colic

A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic

If you suspect colic in your horse, don't hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian. Initially, try to observe the horse's behavior and monitor vital signs, including heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature.

Walking your horse gently can sometimes alleviate mild colic symptoms, but avoid doing so excessively, as it may worsen certain types of colic. If the signs persist or worsen, it's time to call in professional help.

Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination, which may involve physical assessment, rectal palpation, and other diagnostic procedures. They will determine the appropriate course of action, including administering medications, providing intravenous fluids, a nasogastric tube, or recommending hospitalization if necessary. 

This leads us to...

When Hospitalization is Necessary

In some severe colic cases, your horse may require hospitalization. Your vet will decide based on your horse's condition and the likelihood of complications. 

Hospitalization allows for more intensive monitoring, access to advanced diagnostic tools, and specialized treatment options. You can support your horse by following your veterinarian's advice and providing a mellow and comforting environment during this time.

We know it's hard, but don't panic. Remaining calm during your horse's hospitalization is crucial. Horses are highly perceptive animals and can sense stress and anxiety, which may affect their recovery and how they handle the situation. 

Trusting your veterinarian and the medical team will help ensure the best possible outcome for your horse. Only around 10% of colics require surgery, but it's still good to have basic knowledge concerning what to expect. 

Colic Surgery and What to Expect

A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic

Colic surgery becomes necessary when a physical obstruction or life-threatening condition, such as a twisted intestine, is identified via examination. While surgery carries inherent risks, it can save a horse's life in critical situations. 

Your veterinarian will discuss the risks and potential benefits before the surgery if it comes to that. However, we encourage you to think about what you'd do if faced with the situation while it's hypothetical. 

Because colic surgery can be a quick decision, knowing the path you'd take is helpful. Most equine insurance policies cover colic, and SmartPak Equine offers ColiCare coverage depending on which supplement you order. 

Consider age, health, and finances. How would your horse handle the surgery? Are you prepared to pay for it and manage aftercare? Having a plan reduces stress, but you must be okay with whatever you decide, so don't take it lightly!

After the surgery, your horse will require intensive care and monitoring during the initial recovery phase. This process will involve restricted movement, particular feeding protocols, and medications to manage pain and prevent complications. 

Following the veterinarian's post-surgery instructions diligently ensures the horse's successful recovery.


Colic Aftercare

Proper aftercare is essential for a full recovery after your horse has received colic treatment, either on the farm or in the hospital. Your veterinarian will provide specific instructions tailored to your horse's condition, including dietary changes, medication administration, and monitoring protocols.

During recovery, give your horse ample time to rest and heal. Avoid returning to regular riding or exercise until your veterinarian gives the green light. Keep a close eye on your horse's behavior and vital signs, and contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any concerning changes or signs of discomfort.

Preventing Colic

A Guide to Preventing and Caring for Equine Colic

Colic isn't always avoidable. Owners often do everything right, and it happens anyway. Still, prevention is the best approach. Here are some essential preventive measures you can easily follow to make your herd less prone to suffering from a case of equine colic. 

  1. Maintain a consistent feeding schedule and always provide access to clean, fresh water.
  2. Offer a balanced and appropriate diet that meets your horse's nutritional needs.
  3. Ensure regular exercise and turnout to encourage gastrointestinal motility.
  4. Manage stress and changes in routine carefully to reduce the risk of colic triggers.
  5. Regularly deworm your horse based on your veterinarian's recommendations.
  6. Minimize exposure to sand or dirt, which can lead to impaction colic.
  7. Keep your horse's living area clean and free from hazards.
  8. Know the horses in your care well to spot changes that don't align with their usual behavior. 

You, Your Horse, and Equine Colic

Equine colic is a downright scary condition that affects horses worldwide. Understanding the different types of colic, recognizing the signs, and acting promptly can significantly impact the outcome. 

By prioritizing prevention and implementing proper management practices, you can reduce the risk of colic and ensure the well-being of your equine companions. You're now prepared with a wealth of knowledge should colic occur.

In all cases, work closely with a veterinarian, and follow their guidance to give your horse the best chance of recovery!

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