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Identifying and treating colic in horses

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Colic is the veterinary term applied to abdominal pain in horses, and it is probably the most common sickness in horses. Colic has many types and is often caused by severe tightening of the equine’s digestive tract; obstruction or a twisted intestine creates a dangerous situation. It results in extreme pain for the horse, not to mention a dangerous health condition. Causes of equine colic include:
  • A common cause of colic is internal parasites. Strongyle larvae damage blood vessels in the intestines, which in turn decreases bloody supply to the affected area.  The damaged intestine leads to necrosis, decreased responsiveness and pain. Large numbers of roundworms have been shown to cause impaction or obstruction in the equine intestine.
  • Sudden changes in feed or moldy feed can lead to colic because of how it ferments in the gut. Improperly digested feed can also cause an obstruction which can become colic.
  • A diet of mostly concentrates without enough long stem roughage sometimes leads to colic.
  • Horses with bad eating habits, such as cribbing, have been shown to have increased tendencies for colic.
  • Not enough healthy fiber or boredom sometimes tempts a horse to nibble at scraps of hay and dirt. The dirt increases the risk of accumulation of sand in its bowel, and thus, the horse's risk for colic increases.
  • Lack of water is a leading cause of colic and may even cause an impaction to occur.
Deworming programs can help decrease damage caused by parasites

The symptoms for any form of colic are obvious; the horse will show it is in discomfort and pain. It is not gradual either. You will notice strange behaviors immediately. The horse will begin to sweat more than usual, stomp at the ground, purse its lips, kick out, or bite its stomach region. They often stretch out hoping to relieve some of the intestinal discomfort.

Some methods for treating colic and its discomfort include the following:

  • Traditionally, a horse with colic is walked; walking helps relieve anxiety and also aids in the prevention of rolling and subsequent intestinal twisting. Walking may also help relieve the buildup of pressure in the intestines. If thirty minutes passes and symptoms are still present or worse yet, more severe, contact a veterinarian immediately.
  • Regular exercise assists the overall health and function of the digestive tract.
  • Deworming programs help decrease damage caused by parasites.
  • Feed your horse the recommended amount of psyllium such as EQUUS Psyllium Pellets and Equi-Aid Psyllium Pellets. Psyllium acts like a sponge that helps remove unwanted sand, toxins, and indigestible roughage which settle and collect in the digestive tract.
  • Treatment by a veterinarian can sometimes entail pain-relievers. Analgesics help relieve pain as the animal’s intestinal functions return to normal or until further treatment is administered.
  • The horse can be given laxatives to help move fecal matter through its digestive tract. Laxatives can sometimes be effective for reestablishing normal digestion function.
  • The final treatment option is surgery. Sometimes blockage in the horse’s digestive tract is too much to overcome for those without the proper veterinary background. Contact a veterinarian for more information if surgery is required and how invasive it will be.

Each case of colic is different. It is important you balance care, feeding and activity level for each of your horses. Always work in combination with your veterinarian to determine the best health plan for you horse.


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