Tuesday Tip – How to Detect Colic

Seems this is the time of year for colic. Spring vaccinations, spring grass, breaking into the feed room, fluctuating temperatures – these are just a few things that can cause stomach upset for horses, ponies, donkeys.

Just a few weeks ago I had quite a scare with my pony, Zorro. He was laying down, rolling, then standing up, changing positions then laying down again. The rolling wasn’t violent but it was different than the way he usually rolls. When up he would look back at his tummy. He was violently shivering. So much so that he could barely stand as his knees kept buckling. His capillary refill in his gums was poor and his gums were gray. All signs that he was suffering from colic.

What are some signs we need to look for when we suspect colic?

  • Violently rolling. This can look like the horse getting up and then laying back down, violently rolling, then getting up to change position and then laying back down to roll.
  • Look back at their tummy, biting at their tummy.
  • Stomping the feet, lifting the hind feet high into the tummy, holding them there and then lowering them to the ground
  • Excessive sweating
  • Excessive shivering
  • Slow refill of the capillaries in the gums
  • No gut sounds
  • Restlessness, pawing the ground
  • Stretching as if to urinate
  • Elevated pulse rate and breathing rate

When I suspected colic with Zorro I did not waste anytime in calling my vet. Of course it was after hours and I had to call my vet’s emergency line. I explained what was happening and my vet agreed that it was colic.

He had me make a separate area for Zorro so I could more easily monitor his manure output. No manure can mean impaction colic. Typically if a horse starts to poop that is a good sign. Sometimes you can put them in the horse trailer and they will go, take them for a ride in the trailer and that can loosen things and help them pass gas if it’s more of a gas colic. Neither of these things helped Zorro. He did not pass anything.

What should we do if we suspect colic?

  • Do not waste any time… Call your vet right away!
  • If you know how, check your horse’s vital signs – heart rate, temperature, breathing rate. If you do not know how to check your horse’s vital signs, learn how here!
  • Look for any manure that your horse may have passed. If he is in with other horses, then separate him right away and keep an eye on him.
  • If your horse is laying down, getting up and rolling, put a halter on and quietly walk them. If they are too painful to walk, then at least don’t allow them to lay down and roll. If they can lay quietly then allow that while you get the horse trailer ready to get him to the vet.
  • If your horse starts to settle then keep an eye on him. Don’t let him go for several hours before you check on him. Check every 20-30 minutes, at the minimum every hour.
  • Don’t feed your horse if you suspect colic. Adding more food to the situation never helps. Some horses will stress eat when they don’t feel well. Some won’t eat anything. Remove all access to food if you suspect colic.
  • Do NOT try to tube your horse yourself. This is something only a vet should do.
  • If you do administer Banamine as per your vet – Don’t over medicate. If the Banamine doesn’t help within 45 minutes it’s not because they need more but because the condition is beyond what Banamine can help with!
  • Have your trailer ready. Don’t wait to haul them to the vet because you feel you are over reacting. It’s better to be proactive and have them be fine than to wait too long!

I checked on Zorro every hour all night long and there wasn’t much improvement. He did not pass very much manure over night. So, I loaded him the trailer first thing in the morning and drove him to the equine surgeon.

It’s important for you to know how far you are willing to go. In my case they suspected an impaction which usually leads to surgery. Was I willing to go that far? Yes. But not everyone can afford to do that. Know this BEFORE you get to the hospital.

Zorro passed a small amount of manure on the way to the vet clinic, enough that they could check it for sand. It was sand free! It had just the right amount of moisture.

They drew blood, checked his vitals and felt he was nice and alert. The blood showed that he had elevated white blood cells – a normal horse sits around 20 and his were 400. So the vet said this is usually a reaction to the vaccination. Which he had had a few days earlier.

Thank goodness it was not an impaction! In our case the Banamine did help with the initial pain. The trailer ride the next morning helped even further. And after another 24 hours, Zorro was almost back to normal.

The follow up plan:

For the next 24 hours Zorro had to have soaked hay pellets, made into a nice wet mash. I fed him 1 pound every 4 hours, until he was going to the bathroom normally and seemed more his old self. He started out sleeping a lot and then slowly got frisky and bossy when it was time to eat. This is how I knew he was feeling like himself again. I checked in with the vet and got the go ahead to put him back out on the track and feed him hay again.

Please keep in touch with your vet afterwards so you don’t feed him something that will cause trouble again. Most vets will call and check in with you after the appointment as colic is not something to mess around with.

Here is a wonderful article about colic and one I read and re-read all night long… It felt good to know that I had done everything as correctly as I could!

Dealing With Equine Colic: 33 Do’s an Don’ts

Again, if you suspect colic do not wait to call your vet! This is not something to wait around to see if things get better. We need to be proactive.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *