What is Colic?

The information below discusses the wide range of issues related to colic and has been produced from the evidence, recommendations and involvement of veterinary surgeons, horse owners and original research conducted by The University of Nottingham.

A number of veterinary practices have signed up to be our Vet REACT Colic Champions. Throughout the year they will be helping to provide advice, presentations and resources on all issues related to colic to their clients. We are delighted to have their support.

What is Colic?

Colic is used to describe clinical signs of abdominal pain or discomfort in the horse; hence colic is technically a symptom rather than being a disease. Colic is the most common equine emergency and cause of death in horses worldwide. Find out more about different types of colic here

Recognising the signs of colic

Horse owners, or the main person responsible for the care of horses, play a vital role in recognising the early signs of colic. Colic cases can quickly deteriorate so early recognition and prompt veterinary attention is vital to increase the chance of recovery for the horse. Click here for your guide to recognising the signs of colic.

Reducing the risk of colic

Colic can occur at any time of the year in both grass-kept and stabled horses. Due to the many potential risk factors for colic there are plenty of simple steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of it occurring. Download our leaflet for more information on feeding and watering, routine healthcare, change in seasons, exercise, and natural predispositions.

Emergency decision making

Time is of the essence when a horse has colic, especially if the case is severe and referral to a veterinary hospital is required. Any delay could potentially affect the outcome for the horse. Download our leaflet and emergency care plan so you can be prepared to react.

Normal temperature, pulse, and respiration parameters in adult horses

Knowing the ‘normal’ temperature, pulse and respiration rates for your horse means you will recognise if values are abnormal. If there is no reason for a change in parameters such as recent stress or exercise, seek veterinary advice. Download our leaflet for guidance on measuring your horse’s parameters.

Waiting for the vet to arrive

Download our leaflet for information on what to do when your horse has colic and you are waiting for the vet or referral to a veterinary hospital

What will my vet do if my horse has colic?

Your vet will go through a series of steps when they examine your horse to help rule out more serious problems and attempt to establish the most likely reasons your horse is showing signs of pain. Download our leaflet to find out how you can help your vet identify the cause of the problem.

Rectal examination

Rectal examination is the test that vets use most commonly to help them find out the cause of colic. Rectal examination involves the vet placing their hand and arm into the horse’s rectum so that they can feel inside the abdomen. This enables them to identify anything that feels abnormal or out of place, and in many cases, it is an important part of deciding what next steps and treatments are required. Find out more about the procedure here.

Nasogastric intubation

Nasogastric intubation, more commonly known as stomach tubing, involves passing a hollow tube up the horse’s nose, down the oesophagus (gullet) into the horse’s stomach. It is used by a vet to identify if there are any abnormal contents in the horse’s stomach, and to administer fluids and some treatments directly into the stomach. It is the second most commonly used test to help diagnose horses with colic (rectal examination being the most common). Find out more about the procedure here.

What happens at referral?

The referral to an equine hospital of a horse or pony suffering from colic may be considered for a number of different reasons, find out what these include and what you need to do prior to referral and when you arrive.

WARNING: SOME LEAFLETS CONTAIN SURGICAL PHOTOS

Recognising the signs of colic

What is colic?

Recognising the signs of colic

Reducing the risk of colic

Emergency decision making

Normal temperature, pulse and
respiration parameters in adult horses

Waiting for the vet to arrive

What will my vet do if my horse has colic?

What will my vet do if my horse has colic?

Rectal examination

Nasogastric intubation

REACTpocketguide

What happens at referral?

How to help your horse - a quick guide

Poster and emergency numbers

Acknowledgements

The British Horse Society and The University of Nottingham thank all those involved with the production of the colic information. The leaflets have been written and reviewed by:

  • Professor Sarah Freeman, Dr John Burford, Dr Adelle Bowden and Professor Gary England – School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, The University of Nottingham
  • Professor Tim Mair – Bell Equine Clinic
  • Professor Debbie Archer – University of Liverpool
  • The British Horse Society Welfare & Education Teams

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