Colic in horses is one of the most common conditions that threaten the health of horses and ponies internationally. As a riding instructor, barn manager, and simply a horse lover, I consider it extremely important to familiarize yourself with the signs of colic and any home remedies for horse colic you can use before, the vet can arrive.
While there is no real substitute for vet care, there are a few awesome horse colic remedies you can use to ease your horse’s discomfort between finding them in a colic state and help to arrive.
What is Colic in Horses? And What Causes a Horse to Colic?: Potential Causes and Signs
Colic is a broad term for gastrointestinal discomfort in horses. As horses have long necks, their anatomy makes it impossible for them to vomit when they are in a state of gastrointestinal distress. Similarly, their large bodies cause a complex internal digestive system that can be prone to blockages or other threats to their digestive organs, which often leads to colic.
There are four major kinds of Colic in horses, each having both similar and specific causes.
- Spasmodic Colic: Spasmodic Colic is also known as gas colic because it occurs when there is a large build-up of gas in the equine digestive system. It generally results from stress, change in diet, inadequate amounts of hay or fresh grass, or parasites.
- Impaction Colic: An impaction, or blockage, in the digestive system of horses, is what causes this kind of colic. An impaction can occur with changes in diet, dehydration, overeating, or a change in exercise.
- Sand Colic: Sand colic occurs in horses and ponies kept in dry lots. While sometimes this is done for their own good (like for plumper than healthy ponies and horses), equines that ingest too much sand, risk blocking or irritating the digestive tract.
- Twisted Gut: The most severe kind of colic, twisted gut is exactly what it sounds like. Normally, the horse’s large colon is always able to twist freely within the horse, but if it over twists, it can cut off its circulation and release toxins into the horse’s system. Twisted gut is a physical reaction to stress, changes in diet, lack of turnout time, and problems with a horse’s teeth.
Colic in Horses: Signs and Symptoms
While there are multiple kinds of colic, most kinds of colic comes with similar signs and symptoms. Any behavior that looks like a horse is paying excessive attention to their flank, is one to keep an eye on. The most common signs and symptoms of colic are:
- Lying down more than usual
- Kicking at the belly
- Stretching out from front to back, or sitting on their hind legs
- Lack of appetite
- Lack of manure production
- Visible bloating
A colicking horse will exhibit quite a number of abnormal behaviors, seem restless or fidgety, or even have gastrointestinal symptoms that will key you into their distress.
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Colic in Horses
A horse in distress is often quite disturbing for both the horse and their caretaker. While one should always call their vet when they see their horse in signs of colic, there are a few steps you can take to ease their pain and while waiting for the vet to arrive.
According to the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, horses have very keen senses of smell and aromatherapy has been proven effective for a variety of ailments. Horses in colic will be in full body stress, and most often, that stress can result in detrimental behaviors like thrashing. Thus, to keep your horse calm in the event of colic, you can simply inject it with Lavender Oil, to reduce the horse’s anxiety and calm their racing hearts. Doing so will give you and the horse some peace of mind until the vet arrives.
According to Horse Talk NZ, herbs like Dandelion, Valerian Root, Chamomile, Meadowstreet, and Peppermint, can be used to help calm inflammation and aid digestion in horses. The use of these herbs should always be done under the supervision of your veterinarian, because these five herbs can have anti-inflammatory properties and stimulate a digestive system for horse’s who are showing signs of gastrointestinal distress.
Equine Massage and Acupressure
One of the aspects of colic that makes horses so uncomfortable is the stagnant gut, therefore, any kind of home remedy that is non-invasive and can stimulate the gut is worth trying. Equine Massage and Acupressure can be used to help restore fluids, calm the nervous system, and reduce anxiety, thus making it a good tool to have in your colic arsenal.
A home colic remedy almost every single person can perform for their horse is walking. Walking helps to get the gut moving and can keep a horse and its owner calmer when a horse is in distress. Horses that are in intense pain and showing severe behaviors like thrashing should not be walked, as it can be dangerous for both horse and caretaker. However, walking is an excellent early intervention tactic for cases of colic that are likely caused by overeating and bloating.
Given that colic is a common ailment in horses, it’s a condition that is important you familiarize yourself with, especially if you’re a horse owner. Even though, calling your vet when you observe any signs of colic is the first step you should take, however, any steps that you can take to ease the horse’s pain and anxiety, will help to keep the situation from going from bad to worse. And if you’re considering doing so, here are some of the preparation steps you can follow:
- Come up with a vet-approved colic plan
- stock your stable with essential oils and herbs that they may recommend
- Reach out to licensed equine massage therapists to learn the best ways of treating a colicking horse
- Keep your horses on a routine when it comes to feeding, turnout, and exercise
Questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.
Can horse colic go away on its own?
The severity of horse colic can vary significantly from case to case. Sometimes they may resolve without any medical treatment. This is more likely to occur if the horse colic is mild and caused by something such as gas accumulation or impaction of the large colon or caecum. If horse colic is caused by parasites, mild colic symptoms may disappear after anti-parasitic treatment.
The horse's age can also be a factor in whether colic goes away on its own. While colic in very young horses (less than 6 months old) is often due to congenital defects and requires treatment, colic in older horses is more likely to be caused by a problem such as impaction or gas accumulation and may resolve without any specific treatment.
It's important to pay attention to any signs of horse colic as they may not go away on its own and can progress to a life-threatening condition. If you are concerned that your horse's colic is not resolving on its own, it is important to consult with your veterinarian. They will be able to determine the cause of colic and provide the appropriate treatment.
If horse colic goes untreated, what could happen?
If horse colic goes untreated, it can lead to a number of serious health problems, including rupture of the horse's stomach or intestines. This can lead to serious haemorrhaging, shock, and even death. The horse may also develop colic reoccurring episodes due to chronic conditions like gut-related diseases, parasites, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), intestinal displacement (colonic impactions), abdominal abscesses, or scarring of the intestines. Treatment of horse colic is essential to preventing these health problems.
What do you feed a horse with colic?
Owners often ask what horse feed they should give to a horse with colic. If you suspect your horse has colic, consult your veterinarian before feeding him or her anything. The vet may recommend that the horse fast for 24 hours and only then slowly reintroduce hay, grass, and water. The horse may also be given small amounts of light feed such as a bran mash.
Horses with colic should not be fed grain or given other concentrated feeds until they pass gas and their appetite returns. Soy bean meal should never be fed to horses with colic as they can make the condition worse. The horse should also not be allowed to eat straw, wood shavings, or other horse bedding as they can block the horse's digestive system and cause more problems.
How long does it take for a horse to recover from colic?
Most horses with colic recover within a few days if they are properly treated. However, some horses can take weeks or even months to fully recover. Horses that develop chronic colic may require surgery to correct the problem.
Horses that recover from colic may develop dietary sensitivities or allergies that can cause the horse to suffer recurring bouts of colic. Owners should consult their veterinarian to develop a diet that is best for their horse.