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Colic is a condition of severe abdominal discomfort characterized by not eating, pawing, looking at the belly, lifting the lip up, and rolling/thrashing.


  • Decreased or no appetite
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Pawing at ground
  • Looking at sides
  • Straining to urinate or defecate
  • No manure for over 12 hours
  • Lying down at irregular times of the day
  • Excessive rolling
  • Thrashing


  • Take away all feed, but not water unless directed
  • Assess heart rate, respiratory rate, and temperature
  • Look at gum color and capillary refill time
  • Listen for gut sounds
  • Assess manure output – amount and consistency
  • Walk (not more than 45 minutes) – will distract from pain and help increase gut motility
  • If the horse is thrashing, (and it is safe to do so) move him/her to an arena so that he/she will not injure themselves or anyone else
  • If horse is lying down quietly—let him/her be
  • Call a friend over to help you
  • Call your veterinarian


  • To determine if your horse needs to be seen, a course of therapy and medications.
  • Your veterinarians may instruct you to administer Banamine or Dipyrone.
  • Be able to tell your veterinarian: an assessment of pain, appetite, amount and consistency of manure passed in the last 12 hours, water consumption in the last 12 hours, recent changes in feed or exercise, recent deworming, and past colic history.

Before you are in this situation, think about whether referral to a hospital and/or colic surgery is an option for you and your horse. This will make the decision easier than deciding in the heat of the moment under great duress. The decision for surgery or referral to a hospital usually needs to be made extremely quickly, so have a plan beforehand. A rough estimate of colic surgery is $3000-5000. This estimate depends on type of colic, how sick they are before and after, age and any other ongoing medical issues.


  • Gas or spasmodic colic- These colics occur due to many reasons. Changes in feed or moldy feed my cause the gas/fermenting bacteria in the horse’s hind gut to proliferate and create excessive gas. This gas causes cramping and the horse may be violently painful, seem to improve and become painful again. Usually spasmolytics and pain relief such as banamine will see these colics through. Changes in weather and barometric pressure seem to correlate with spasmodic colics, as well as stressful events.
  • Displacement colics- Horses have over 100 yards of small and large intestine. For the most part, this intestine floats freely within the abdomen being anchored at only a few locations. When gas is built up in the intestines, it causes the affected gut to rise and change its anatomical location. This may result in a nephrosplenic entrapment colic where the large colon gets trapped between the kidney and the spleen. The intestines could go in a number of places it’s not really supposed to be, causing pain. Sometimes these correct on their own and sometimes surgical intervention is warranted.
  • Impaction colic- Horses large intestine has a great ability to absorb water from the ingested material. If horses decrease water consumption and the gut is not moving the food along at a normal pace, the gut will continue to absorb water and the ingesta will become stuck in the gut. These should be treated with administration of laxatives via nasogastric tube and may require intravenous fluids at a hospital. Occasionally surgery is necessary to remove the impaction if medical therapy is not working. It is not always ingesta that gets stuck and masses or foreign bodies can also cause impactions.
  • Sand- These types of colic may occur if the horse is fed on sandy soil. The sand is ingested but does not clear through the gut in its entirety. The sand moves back and forth against the gut and irritates it causing pain.
  • Twists and Torsions- This is a type of displacement colic where the intestines wrap around each other or other structures within the abdomen. The twist may cut off the blood supply to the intestine and cause a portion of the intestine to die. These colics need to be surgically corrected, and timing is of the essence to decrease the amount of time blood is not available to the affected intestine.