Morgan Murphy

Colic Basics: How To React if Your Horse Shows Signs of Intestinal Distress.

You're at the barn and you notice your horse seems to be acting strangely. He's pawing the ground, rolling, sweating and he doesn't seem to be interested in food. All your instincts point towards colic! Naturally, your first reaction may be to panic. Try not to. Take a breath, call the veterinarian and get your horse comfortable and ready for the vet. Not only can this save valuable time (which in colic cases can be the difference between a successful treatment and losing the horse) but, it will also keep everyone safe at a time when emotions and anxiety is high.

Incessant rolling may be a sign that your horse has colic*

Do You Keep Your Veterinarian's Phone Number Handy?
Do you know your local vets number? Make sure you have it saved to your phone as well as written down on an emergency barn phone number list. (The barn list should be kept highly visible for emergencies.) Make sure you provide the veterinary practice with your correct address along with any tricky directions, should they have a GPS fail. This can save valuable minutes and seconds as the vet makes his/her way to your barn.

Prepare your horse
1. Make sure you bring him into the barn from the field and walk him to somewhere with light (if it is night time.) Keep gently walking him about so he does not try to lay down. Ideally, you should be somewhere hard and dry but with access to water. Discuss the merits of walking vs. not walking your horse with your veterinarian when you first speak to him/her.

2. Boil some water and have a few buckets of warm water ready in case your veterinarian needs to stomach tube the horse to try to remove a blockage. The Vet will require warm, clean water for this procedure.

3. It is important to prevent your horse from rolling as he may become cast (Stuck against the stall wall, while upside down) and injure himself. This is unless the horse appears desperate to roll, per item 5. Walking your horse slowly around the barn can help relax the intestinal tract and discourage your horse from rolling. Don't forget to discuss the merits of keeping the horse walking with your veterinarian.

4. Make sure you have two bales of either straw or hay at the ready for placing behind your horse during the rectal exam. Veterinarians virtually always perform rectal exams in colic cases (as part of the assessment) and even the best-behaved horse can kick out, when stressed. The bale of straw/hay should prevent the horse from kicking the vet.

5. Some horses are in so much pain they are simply desperate to roll. In this situation, place the horse in a ring where he is contained and cannot damage himself (or you) but can roll freely. Don't try and stop this type of colicky horse rolling behavior. The horse is in too much pain and will not listen to you. Allowing this kind of necessary rolling SHOULD NOT cause the gut to twist, NOR SHOULD it worsen the colic.

6. Always get someone to help you with a colicking horse. Safety is paramount in colic cases as pain can make even the most mild mannered animal behave unpredictably. Always wear your helmet, gloves and boots when dealing with an animal in distress.

7. Do you have your own transport? Do you know someone that can transport your horse if necessary? If the worst happens and your horse requires surgery and you elect to go forward, you will need to get your horse to the veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Some clinics have an equine ambulance which can transport your horse, 24-hours a day. We highly recommend deciding if you will opt for surgery should your horse require it. If the answer is yes, then you will want to make plans with the surgical facility or someone you know who hauls, in the event you require emergency transport.

8. Remember to breathe. Your horse will pick up on your emotions and the more stressed you are, the most stressed he will become. Keeping your horse as calm and relaxed as possible could have a significant impact on the outcome.

When the Veterinarian arrives, if he doesn't know your horse, he will request a history. Colic is a common condition amongst horses and arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible can only be a good thing.  To read more on the topic, turn to our blog on surgical options and medical management of colic as well as feeding to prevent colics


 *Image courtesy of Dollar Photo Club