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Pleun Broeren
19 april 2024 Reading time 3 minutes

Colic: everything about colic in horses

Colic is a collective term for abdominal pain and can be very dangerous for horses, so much so that they can die from it. Read here everything about colic in horses, what the causes can be, tips to prevent it and what the feeding advice is after colic.

What is colic?

Colic in horses is a form of abdominal pain. In a horse, blockages, cramps, gas accumulations or shifts can occur in various places in the digestive tract, often resulting in colic.

Types of Colic

There are different types of colic, the tricky part is that sometimes your horse shows very clearly that something is wrong and sometimes the symptoms are minimal. The most common types of colic in horses are:

Gas colic

Normally, gases leave the body through the movement of wind or farts. If the gases cannot get out, for example because the gases have accumulated or the intestine is (partially) blocked, gas colic can occur.

Constipation colic

Your horse has constipation colic when the intestines are clogged with feed. You often see this if, for example, your horse eats too much straw, does not grind the feed properly and/or does not drink enough.

Sand colic

If your horse eats too much sand, for example because the grass on the pasture is very short, or is fed roughage from the ground in the paddock, the heavy sand remains in the intestines and sand colic can develop.

Cramp colic

Chronic stress or sudden changes in your horse's management, for example changes in feed or stabling, can cause intestinal cramps.  

Cause of colic in horses

If your horse has colic, it can have various causes, such as a worm infestation, poorly maintained teeth, sand accumulation or an inflammation or paralysis of the intestine. Colic can also be caused by mouldy or spoiled food. Other food-related causes of colic may include:

  • A low fibre (= too little roughage) and/or starchy ration.
  • Transitioning too quickly to a new ration, both concentrates and roughage.
  • Sugar-rich spring grass can cause colic due to the high sugar content and fast flow.
  • Eating a large amount of straw. Due to the dry mass and large amount, this can cause a blockage. When the transition is gradual, straw can easily be part of the ration.

Colic Symptoms

A horse with colic does not look fit and often looks listless or restless. Not all symptoms will always be visible but, if your horse shows some of the following, there is a chance that it is colic:

  • Doesn't want to eat
  • Rolling or your horse keeps lying down and getting up again
  • Watching the flank or kicking the belly
  • Sweating and feverish
  • Increased heart rate and breathing

The symptoms of constipation colic in a horse can be the same as the symptoms of sand colic or gas colic in your horse. You cannot deduce from how your horse behaves what kind of colic it is. 

What to do with a horse with colic?

If you suspect that your horse has colic, notify the vet immediately and describe the symptoms you have noticed. If you can count or measure your horse's heart rate, the higher the heart rate the more urgent need for the vet! What you can do best depends on how severe the colic is. If possible, let the horse walk for 15 minutes to half an hour, provided the horse does not pose a danger to itself and to you as the owner. If the horse has such severe colic that this is the case, it is sometimes wise to put the animal in a paddock/box where he can damage himself as little as possible. In general, rolling does not make the colic worse at that point. In any case, don't wait. Colic in a horse can be fatal.

Tips to prevent colic in horses

You cannot always control the development of colic, but there are a number of things you can take into account to prevent colic in your horse as much as possible. A few tips for you at a glance:

  • Never change food abruptly but do so gradually. This applies not only to concentrates, but also to hay or grazing.
  • Feed your horse the amount of food that suits the effort and performance it has to deliver that day and ensure that it has sufficient roughage and exercise, so that the intestines remain active. Make sure that the hay has not just been harvested or contains mould spots. It is in any case not wise to put mouldy feed or straw in the stable.
  • Avoid large amounts of starchy foods, such as cornmeal and wheat. Too much and too soon is never good! So make sure that your horse eats calmly and does not drink too much cold water immediately after strenuous exercise.
  • Never forget to soak beet pulp for horses such as Pavo SpeediBeet and Pavo FibreBeet in water before feeding.
  • You can provide extra support for your horse's intestinal function with a special supplement, such as Pavo GutHealth . The 100% natural ingredients in Pavo GutHealth ensure that the healthy bacteria in the large and small intestines are optimally fed and that the bacterial population is brought back into balance.
  • Finally, ensure a good deworming policy and regular dental check -ups

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