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Colic is the most common equine emergency , and also one of the most frightening for owners. Symptoms can range from mild , such as a lack of interest in food, to severe such as violent rolling or falling to the ground. What can you do to help your colicking horse while waiting for the vet to arrive?

First of all, remember to stay safe despite your concern for the horse. A violently rolling horse can be extremely dangerous, especially in close quarters such as a stall. A horse in pain will forget his training and may step on or trample a person. Get someone to help before considering going into a stall or approaching a very painful horse. Do not go into a stall with a very painful horse alone.

Second, if possible, begin walking the horse. Walking promotes the movement of gas and manure through the horse’s intestinal tract, and also keeps them on their feet. Take care not to exhaust the horse, however. Although the very painful horse will benefit from lots of walking to keep them standing, it can be overdone. If the horse is only showing milder signs, such as flank watching or lack of interest in food, you can walk him for 15 minutes at a time and then give him a break for several minutes. If at any point a colicking horse begins panting or trembling, they may need a chance to rest. The very sick horse can be allowed to lay down quietly as long as they are not attempting to roll. In recent years colic specialists have questioned the long-held belief that rolling contributes to GI twists, and it is now thought more likely that violent rolling is a symptom of a twist rather than a cause of one. However, rolling can injure the horse, and it is still recommended to keep the horse moving periodically with hand walking.

While you are walking your horse, call your spouse, friend, barn owner, or whoever else you can think of who will be able to give you physical and moral support. If the colic is severe, there may be difficult financial and emotional decisions to make, such as whether to refer for surgery. If you do not have a trailer, try to locate a friend who is available and does, in case the horse needs to be transported for surgery. If your horse is insured, contact the insurance company. Also think over any changes you may have made in your horse’s management, or any unusual events that may have recently occurred that could help explain the colic.

It is best to remove hay and grain until a diagnosis is made. However, the horse should be allowed to drink as much as they want.

If you have any on hand, and are familiar with its use, Banamine can be administered to help relieve some pain. DO NOT under any circumstances give injectable Banamine in the muscle, however. Intramuscular Banamine injections are known to cause severe and potentially deadly muscle infections in horses. Make sure you inform your veterinarian if you have done this because a horse that has received Banamine may show less severe signs of colic.

Once your vet arrives, the horse will receive a physical exam , including checking his gums, heart rate, respiratory rate, and GI sounds. A rectal exam will be performed to check for any abnormalities that can be felt. A tube will be passed through the horse’s nostril into its stomach to check for reflux ( fluid back up into the stomach which can indicate a severe problem requiring surgery) and to administer electrolytes and other medications. A decision will then be made on the severity of the colic and its likely cause, and a plan made to treat or refer the horse.

A colicking horse should be observed after treatment for a reoccurrence of pain, so whenever possible you will want to arrange to be at the barn at least periodically over the next 12-24 hours. It is best if a horse is not left alone for more than 2 hours for the 12 hours following a colic episode in case signs of pain reoccur.



Denise Bickel DVM
Whole Horse Veterinary Services
Phone # 517-474-4050
Fax # 517-764-7710
3906 Seymour Rd
Jackson, MI 49201


Hours--Mon, Thurs, Fri from 11 am to 8pm, and Sat and Sun 10 am-4 pm

Whole Horse Veterinary Services. 
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