Colic is the number one killer of horses. Fortunately, most cases of colic are mild and resolve with simple medical treatment or no specific treatment at all. In fact, less than 10% of all colic cases are severe enough to require surgery or to lead to the death of the horse. Nevertheless, every case of colic should be taken seriously, since it can be difficult to differentiate a mild case from a potentially serious one in the early stages.

‘Colic’ is not a disease in itself; it is merely a symptom of disease, indicating pain in the abdomen (belly). There are many different conditions that can cause a horse to show signs of abdominal pain. Most of these involve the digestive system, i.e. the stomach or intestines, although colic can also be related to other body systems such as the reproductive tract.

What treatments may be administered?

Pain relievers or sedatives may be used to control pain while intestinal function normalises, further tests are performed or other treatments are administered.

Fluid therapy helps to correct dehydration and to soften intestinal contents. This may be administered either by stomach tube or via an intravenous catheter, most often in the jugular vein.

Laxatives such as mineral oil administered via stomach tube.

Enemas, particularly in young foals suspected of having meconium retention.

Surgery under general anaesthesia.

The key to minimising the incidence of colic is good management. The key to minimising the impact of colic and increasing the chances of a good outcome is early and appropriate treatment. Treat every episode of colic as potentially serious and involve your Veterinary Surgeon from the outset.