Elite Equine and Colic 101
Do you know what to do – and just as importantly, what not to do – if your horse displays vague, mild, or serious signs of what might be colic? How do you handle the situation? Actions to take/avoid with your horse’s recovery plan? How to minimize the risk for colic in the first place?
The following are 30 tips by established and experienced DVM’s to use as guidelines.
When Your Horse First Shows Signs of Colic
- DO check your horse’s heart rate and rectal temperature. Also check his hooves for heat and his rump muscles for tightness: These may reflect laminitis and tying-up, respectively, which can mimic colic/abdominal pain.
- DO look for the presence of feces in the stall or pen. Absent or reduced amounts of manure could indicate a problem.
- DO call your veterinarian immediately, regardless of the severity or vagueness of the signs. Waiting too long could allow minor problems to become severe and severe problems to become untreatable. Relate your horse’s vital signs and describe his clinical signs.
- DON’T use a wait-and-see approach before talking with your veterinarian. If a horse is painful because of excess fluid in his stomach, the horse could rupture his stomach; once this occurs, there is no treatment that will save him. This can happen in a relatively short amount of time, within hours from the onset of clinical signs.
- DO closely monitor your horse for as long as it takes. Your horse’s clinical signs and condition can worsen very, very quickly. You’ve got to check your horse every 15 to 20 minutes.
While You Wait for Your Veterinarian
- DO walk your horse, if it’s safe and recommended by your veterinarian, to stimulate gut motility and to prevent injury from rolling. Only walk him enough to keep him from going down and rolling.
- DON’T exercise aggressively, as vigorous exercise slows gut motility and can lead to exhaustion when the horse needs to retain fluid and energy.
- DON’T permit access to feed (hay, grass, or grain), as food could exacerbate the problem. Even when colicking, some horses will still want to eat, perhaps even gorge themselves, as a response to pain.
- DO withhold access to water until the veterinarian can examine the horse and pass a stomach tube. If the stomach is distended, allowing the horse to drink could result in a ruptured stomach.
- DON’T medicate without your veterinarian’s approval, as pain medications can mask clinical signs, making it more difficult to get a timely, accurate diagnosis.
- DON’T overmedicate. If the horse is not responding to a painkiller, it is not because you didn’t use enough medication, it’s because the condition is beyond what that medication can do.
- DON’T administer anything via a nasogastric tube or syringe mineral oil into the horse’s mouth. If done incorrectly and the horse aspirates it into the lungs, he could die.
- DON’T administer enemas. Rectal tears lead to a secondary peritonitis (inflammation of the abdominal lining), which is often fatal.
- DO keep your horse contained in a safe area, such as a small pasture or large box stall, where he can’t get cast or knock into things.
- DO start thinking about preparing for trailering at the onset of clinical signs. Ideally, you should have a contingency plan for trailering prior to encountering a colic that might require referral. It’s also a good idea to maintain your truck/trailer so they are ready in an emergency such as this.
Heading to the Equine Hospital for Colic Care
- DO trailer the horse, if possible, in a trailer without dividers. This reduces the chance of your horse getting cast under a partition.
When Your Horse Needs Medical or Surgical Treatment
- DON’T deviate from your veterinarian’s treatment plan. Administer medications correctly and follow the recommended protocol for the complete duration prescribed. If you have concerns, ask your veterinarian before making any changes.
- DO monitor the incision site daily if your horse required surgery. Call your veterinarian if there are adverse changes in your horse’s appetite, behavior, demeanor, or in the appearance of the incision.
- DON’T place your hands or fingers on the surgical incision. This increases the risk of incisional infection. And remember to discuss postoperative complications and home-care instructions with your vet before going home with your postop horse.
Reducing Colic Risk in Your Horse and Being Prepared
- DO maintain a consistent feeding protocol and introduce feed changes gradually.
- DO feed frequently. The most important part of feeding is consistency with the total amount of feed (energy) given to the horse each day and sticking with a routine.
- DO forego grain over forage. The only horses that need grain are those that lose weight despite being fed good-quality hay 24/7 or those that are in a very demanding exercise schedule.
- DO encourage drinking to reduce risk of impaction colic. Provide access to warm water in the winter and cool water in the summer. Tempt horses that routinely don’t drink much by mixing ample amounts of water into grain, gradually increasing the water:grain ratio.
- DO provide regular exercise. This includes regular turnout. Avoid “weekend warrior” activities or intense bouts of exercise followed by long periods without exercise.
- DO maintain an approved parasite control routine.
- DO take steps to reduce ingestion of sand. If your horse likes to pull his hay out of the container and eat it off the ground, lay mats around the container.
- DO check stool samples of horses prone to sand colic. Put about two cups of manure in a gallon Ziploc bag, fill the bag with water, close the bag tightly, then shake it up until all of the manure is dissolved. Hold the bag by one corner so the opposite corner is hanging lowest. Tap the bag and the sand will settle out in the lower corner. If your horse has more than half a teaspoon, he’s positive for sand ingestion. If you get a negative, repeat the test three or four times over a three-day period to make sure.
- DO consider management changes if your horse has colicked before, for example, a feed or housing change.
- DO consider gastric ulcer prevention methods for highly stressed horses or performance horses, per veterinary instructions.
- DO consider getting major medical (not just surgical) insurance to cover the costs of advanced medical and surgical care for your horse. It is not as expensive as you might think and can save you the stress of wondering where to come up with a large sum of money to save your horse.
Take-Home Message About Equine Colic
Colic can be resolved easily about 90% of the time, but it can also be the end of your horse’s life.
Don’t be misled by mild signs and conclude it’s a do-it-yourself solution: While that could be the case, the price of a phone consultation with your vet is much less costly and painful than dealing with a worsening surgical situation or the angst of a euthanasia that might not have been necessary if you’d acted sooner. 
Elite Equine 100% organic rosehip supplement’s will provide your horse with the systemic boost needed after a colic episode, paving the way for a much quicker and uneventful recovery.
To read more, or to place and order, please visit our website at www.eliteequinesa.com/products
Photo by Daniel Bonilla on Unsplash