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Colic in horses

Colic is a phenomenon that many horse owners fear. You can read all about it in our veterinary article here.


What is colic?

Colic is a collective term for abdominal pain, which can have various causes. The symptoms can be very different and depend on the severity and temperament of the horse. Cold-blooded horses often show fewer symptoms than warm-blooded horses. Symptoms vary from your horse being restless, little to no appetite, constantly kicking or looking at the abdomen, flehmen, often rolling and scratching with the front legs. In addition, there could be different (or no) manure. A horse that constantly stands in the urination position (without urine coming out) is another symptom. The horse can also sweat excessively and in severe cases be apathetic.

Do you think your horse has colic? Do not wait too long to contact your vet. Even if in doubt, it is best to consult your vet. He or she can estimate whether it is necessary to come by or whether it is possible to wait a little longer. What can I do for my horse myself? By going for a walk with the horse, you keep the horse and its intestines moving and can clear up any constipation. Do not move too far from the stable, as the horse may feel the need to lie down when the colic gets worse.

There are a number of different causes that can cause colic:

  • Gas colic
  • Clogging of the intestine (e.g. by sand)
  • Spasmodic colic
  • Change in position of the gut

Gas colic

Too much gas in the intestines can cause severe abdominal pain. Gas can be produced in the gut when too much sugar is absorbed. Spring grass, for example, contains a lot of sugars and can cause problems. Too much concentrate can also cause gas in the intestines.

Another cause of gas in the gut is a partial blockage of the gut due to a blockage or twisting of the gut. The gas can then not be discharged to the posterior intestinal tract and starts to accumulate. It is important to address the underlying cause of the blockage.

Intestinal obstruction

Sand colic

When horses are kept in a paddock or relatively barren pasture, there is a chance that sand or soil will be absorbed while foraging and eating. A small amount of sand won’t do much harm. However, when the sand starts to accumulate, it can lead to blockages, irritate the intestinal mucosa and thus cause colic. Some of the sand will be expelled with the manure. A manure test can then also be used to determine whether the horse absorbs sand.

To prevent sand absorption, it is important to prevent your horse from eating hay from the paddock’s ground. You can instead give the hay in a large plastic tub or hang it up in a hay net. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to prevent horses from absorbing sand, this could happen when the grass is very short. It is then wise to occasionally examine the manure and to treat the horse if necessary. There are various products available that can be used to remove sand from the intestines and can be given as support, such as Excellent Equi Psyllium PlusExcellent Sand Exit , Synovium Sand Oil or Pure Psyllium Horse .

Other cause of blockage

The horse’s intestines can be narrower in some places compared to the ‘normal’ intestinal width. Eating too much bedding, such as straw, flax or wood shavings, can cause blockage in the narrower parts of the gut. This can block intestinal passage. Therefore, try to prevent the absorption of bedding as much as possible.

In addition, make sure that there is always sufficient drinking water available. When there is insufficient drinking water (such as water that’s frozen), water will be withdrawn from the intestines and the passage of food through the intestine will be more difficult.

Blockages can also occur when food is not chewed properly. This can occur when your horse suffers from a dental problem. It is important to have your horse’s teeth treated regularly. Older horses in particular are more prone to dental issues.

Spasmodic colic

Spasmodic colic can be caused by a change in routine. Changing feed or switching from hay to fresh grass can cause these cramps. A change in the amount of training or stress can also be a cause. In addition, a severe worm infestation can also cause cramp colic.

It is therefore important to make sure that you don’t make too many dietary changes at the same time, or that they are implemented gradually. Regarding stress, there are a number of supplements that can be given, such as the Excellent Stress-MixZylkene EquineCavalor Take It Easy or Excellent No Stress Paste. In addition, it is important to regularly have a stool examination to check whether your horse has a worm infection.

Changes in position of the gut

The most dangerous form of colic is the one in which there has been a change in the position of the intestine. Depending on the severity, a rotation of the intestine can block the blood supply to the intestinal system, causing part of the intestine to die. This form of colic can be life-threatening for the horse. It is important to intervene quickly and possibly have surgery.

Veterinary visit

If you suspect that your horse has colic, it is advisable not to wait too long before contacting your vet.
The vet will try to determine the cause of the colic. In addition to a general examination, it may be necessary to insert a gastric tube, perform a rectal examination and, if necessary, do blood tests and/or stool tests. Often medication will be administered and symptoms will be evaluated regularly to see if the horse is improving. In some cases, it may be necessary to immediately send the horse to a specialist clinic that can also perform surgery.

How can I prevent colic in my horse?

There are therefore various measures that can be taken to minimize the risk of colic:

  • Regular dental check-ups to keep the teeth as healthy as possible, so that the horse can chew its food properly.
  • Regular manure testing to check for parasitic infections.
  • Always provide plenty of fresh drinking water.
  • Make sure your horse gets enough and regular exercise, this keeps the intestinal peristalsis going.
  • Try to make changes in the amount of training gradually.
  • If your horse suffers from stress or tension, it is wise to use a supplement for this.
  • Feed management

Feed management

  • Be careful with spring grass that contains a lot of sugars. Try to gradually switch from winter ration to spring grass grazing. When your horse is stabled in the winter, you can gradually build up the grazing hours in the spring, for example, or temporarily close off part of the pasture.
  • When the horse is in a paddock, do not give the hay off the ground to prevent sand absorption. Feed the hay from a plastic tub or into a hay rack or net.
  • Do not let the horse graze too much on very short grass or feed sufficiently so that the absorption of sand/soil is limited.
  • Use a product that can remove sand from the intestines if your horse still absorbs sand despite appropriate measures.
  • Make sure that the horse does not have access to the concentrate storage, as an excess of concentrate can cause gas colic.
  • Nutritional changes should be kept to a minimum as this can cause spasmodic colic.
  • Try to prevent your horse from eating bedding by offering him sufficient roughage.