Brad Dowling BVSc MVetClinStud FACVSc
Registered Specialist in Equine Surgery
North Queensland Specialist Equine Service
Townsville Veterinary Clinic
Colic refers to any condition causing signs of abdominal pain in horses. In most cases the problem arises from the gastrointestinal system but in rarer cases kidney, liver and lung problems can cause signs of colic in horses. Unfortunately the design of the horse’s intestinal tract predisposes it to intestinal accidents and colic.
However there are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of colic attacks.
- Horses are creatures of habit and maintaining regular feeding and exercise routines is important. Studies have shown changes in feeding and management during the preceding 2 weeks are often associated with colic attacks.
- Don’t wait until the last bag of feed is left before buying new feed and make any changes in feed gradually over several days to weeks.
- Always ensure access to a plentiful supply of fresh water and an electrolyte source such as salt a block.
- Roughage in the form of pasture, hay or chaff should make up the bulk of the diet and only feed good quality roughage avoiding stalky hay or feed that has been wet. If using poorer quality hay (such as Rhodes grass round bales), feed it in smaller regular amounts rather than allowing free access.
- Colic episodes, particularly large intestinal impactions traditionally increase in frequency as pastures dry off and hay feeding increases.
- To minimise sand accumulation in the large colon feed your horse in a sand free area or on a large rubber apron to reduce the amount of sand ingested.
- Contact your veterinarian for regular dental examinations and ensure control of intestinal parasites through rotational grazing, manure removal and a regular worming regimen.
- Thankfully approximately 90% of colics respond to medical treatment in the form of pain relief and re-hydration through drenching and intravenous fluid therapy. However, in the remaining 10 % of cases that don’t respond to medical management surgical treatment may be required. Colic surgery is not cheap, however with current techniques a favourable outcome is possible especially if the decision to go to surgery is made early.
As a general rule simple obstructions of the large intestine (such as impactions and enteroliths) have a very good prognosis with survival rates as high as 90%. Survival rates for horses undergoing surgery for small intestinal problems can be between 50-90% depending on how early the decision is made to proceed to surgery.
In most cases horses can resume work as early as 12 weeks after surgery. Often in North Queensland long distances must be travelled to the nearest equine surgical facility. Whatever the cause of your horse’s colic early treatment is probably the single most important thing that can mean the difference between life and death.