What is Equine Colic?

Equine colic is the number one health risk that can lead to fatality amongst a wide demographic of equine patients.

What is Colic?

Colic is defined as abdominal pain that ranges in presentation from patient to patient; however, it is more of a symptom rather than a diagnosis. Colic has a range of presentations in equine patients and can be seen as simple and mild abdominal pain, or as life-threatening and in need of surgical intervention. Below are listed the various types of colic that equine owners may encounter.


Spasmodic - or often referred to as gas colic- is a type of colic that occurs when the smooth muscle of the equine intestine painfully contracts. Often this can occur when the mild gas buildup is present in the digestive tract. This is one of the most common forms of colic. It can present itself in patients by a variety of different inducers such as: severe changes in weather, barometric pressure changes, stress caused by shipping or competition, grazing on toxic plants, a sudden change to more lush grazing, and organophosphate dewormers.


Impaction colic occurs by obstructions in the bowel. This stems from dry intestinal contents when intestinal mobility is slow or when there is insufficient water present. It typically can be brought on by dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Some causes of impaction colic may be limited exercise, decreased water intake, the consumption of coarse food, bedding, or foreign materials, enteroliths, or heavy parasite infestation.

Torsion/Intestinal Displacement

This form of colic can be the most fatal. This occurs when the horse’s colon twists upon itself causing it to be strangled, therefore leading to an obstruction. This bowl twist may have a variety of presentations such as: a large intentional twist, a smaller intentional twist, a trapped bowel, intestinal lipoma, telescoped bowel, or in some cases the bowel may become entrapped behind the splenic ligament. Intestinal torsion is another form of displacement colic that may occur. It is often presented in cases caused by abnormal intestinal contracts aided by gravity.

Sand Colic

Sand colic is one of the most common forms of colic and can have very mild symptoms if caught and treated early. This form of colic usually occurs when the horse has ingested sand or similar forms of loose dirt, therefore causing impaction of the bowel. It is imperative that owners who may feed hay or grain on sand or loose dirt, or who may turn out their horses in sand paddocks are conscious of their horse's sand intake. Food supplements designed to prevent constipation may need to be given to prevent an impaction.

Colic can also be brought on due to inappropriate feeding or gastric ulcer syndrome.

How to help prevent colic?

Rapid weather and seasonal changes are usually the foremost driving factor for colic. Due to the extreme heat that the summer months bring, the risk of colic heightens. Horses are not well adapted to the dry heat, and nor can they regulate their temperature well in the humidity. Therefore, it is imperative to be mindful when riding throughout these months and to prevent your horse from overheating. It is also vital to instil a cool-down routine after your ride to bring your horse's core temperature down, as it is imperative to prevent colic. This may be aided with a hosing down, a fan, and even icing their legs. It is crucial to not allow your horse to eat before they have cooled down as this can be an increased risk for colic. Especially now with competition season being in full swing, it is important to supplement your horse with a gastric supplement to calm the gut, and electrolytes to improve hydration while travelling.

What are the Signs of Colic?

Some tell-tale signs of colic are pawing, curling of the upper lip, sudden loss of appetite, lack of manure, lack of gut sounds, sudden dehydration, dropping and rolling around, a horse may even turn around to look at its abdomen as well. It is important to understand what is usual and or unusual for your horse and to catch any warning signs.

What happens if my horse colics?

If you believe your horse is suffering from colic, bring them into a space where you can watch them closely, such as a round pen or a larger stall. Take away any food in their area as well. Walking can help alleviate some pain in your horse that might be caused by cramping or colic. Walking will also prevent them from dropping down and rolling, which increases the risk of a bowel twist. If your horse continues to display these symptoms or worsens, immediately call your veterinarian.

What may be done for Colic?

It is important to first determine the cause and the location of colic before being treated. By determining the cause, you will be able to know how severe the colic is.

A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication may be given intravenously or orally to relieve some of the symptoms. This will help relax your horse's bowels and allow the impaction to move through their system. Depending on the type of colic your vet might administer laxatives (mineral oil or magnesium sulfate/Epsom salts) and fluids through a nasogastric tube. Fluids may need to be given intravenously as well. This will help with dehydration and maintain blood supply to vital organs. Below are listed the two different fluids your vet may choose to administer depending on the needs of your horse

Crystalloid fluids which include: saline, lactated Ringer’s, Plasmalyte, Normosol, Hartmann’s solution, hypertonic saline, and combinations of electrolytes.

Colloidal solutions include plasma such as hetastarch (hydroxyethyl starch) and Pentastar; which can be very useful in special circumstances such as shock or blood loss. This can be followed by large volumes of isotonic crystalloid fluids.

Horses are large animals and will usually need multiple bags of fluid upon administration. The Aniset™ 4 spike will make this task a lot easier and faster in the case of an emergency. Having the 2 and 4 spike options gives you the choice as to the amount of fluid that needs to be administered over a given time.

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to our email mailing list for regular updates.

Peace of Mind for the Veterinary Professional

Promise 1

Millpledge Quality

ISO 9001 High Quality Manufacturing for over 30 years

Promise 2

Unparalleled Customer Support

VN’s or RVT’s on hand to support your business

Promise 3

Delivering better patient outcomes

Products Designed and Developed for the Veterinary professional

Promise 4

Overnight Direct Supply

International distribution partners around the world

Register for an online account today.

Register for an online account today

Apply Now