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Top Tips | Colic Awareness Week

August 2019


colic awareness week 

 University of nottingham logo     


During colic awareness week, we will be providing ‘top tips’ and advice from experts every day on different aspects of colic.

Top Tip:  Four things you should know about colic

1. ‘Colic’ describes the signs of abdominal pain. There are a number of possible causes and severities, and horses can show a range of different signs.

2. The most common signs are often subtle; see our REACT logo

3. Don’t wait until you see the classic signs of abdominal pain (flank-watching, pawing the ground and rolling). These are not shown by every horse, or don’t appear until later in the disease.

4. Severe types of colic can deteriorate quickly - a rapid response will give your horse the best chance of responding to treatment. If you see any of the REACT signs of colic or are concerned about your horse’s health, call your vet for advice. Find out more about the signs of colic in our ‘Recognising the signs of colic’ leaflet

Sarah Freeman BVetMed PhD CertVA CertVR CertES DipECVS FHEA FRCVS. 

Job role: Professor of Veterinary Surgery, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science University of Nottingham. Academic Lead on the Nottingham Colic Project
Experience: Graduated in 1993, worked in mixed practice then at the Royal Veterinary College, London, specialising in equine surgery. Current role at Nottingham combines clinical work, teaching and research.

Stat of the day - 35% of ‘out of hours’ emergency call outs to horses are for horses with colic

Top Tip:  

Monitoring your horse’s health and knowing their normal behaviour is vitally important in spotting when something may be wrong. Checking your horse’s health parameters (heart rate, respiration rate, temperature) can help you identify when these are abnormal, and when you need to seek veterinary attention. Sometimes a horse’s health parameters can be normal, but they show other behaviours and signs of colic. Call your vet as a matter of urgency if a horse is displaying abnormal behaviour regardless of their parameters. Find out more in our ‘Normal temperature, pulse and respiration parameters in adult horses’ leaflet and contact the Welfare team to request your free REACT guide where you can record your horse’s normal parameters.

Dr Adelle Bowden, BVMedSci BVM BVS PhD MRCVS;

Job role: Nottingham Colic project researcher, Teaching Associate in Clinical and Professional
Experience: Adelle Bowden, qualified 2013 from Nottingham University, completed a PhD as part of Nottingham Equine Colic project and spent some time in equine practice. Employed as a teaching associate in clinical and professional skills at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science since September 2016.

Stat of the day - Less than 50% of horse owners know the correct values for a horse’s normal heart rate and respiratory rate

Top Tip:  

Colic can occur at any time, day or night, and delays in veterinary treatment can impact both a horse’s chances of survival and available treatment options. The distressing nature of colic can make it difficult to decide what is best therefore, thinking about what you would do if your horse required emergency treatment for colic in advance can help to minimise delays.

Things to think about:

  • Is referral for medical or surgical treatment an option for your horse?
  • If referral is an option, do you have access to reliable equine transportation?
  • If you were unable to be contacted in an emergency, would your yard manager, close friends or family members know what treatment you would want for your horse?
  • If your horse is insured, do you know what your policy covers?
  • If your horse isn’t insured, do you have a financial plan in place to cover treatment costs?

Find out more in our Emergency Decision Making leaflet and watch our ‘Are you Ready to REACT’ video available further down this webpage. 

Katie Lightfoot BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science

Job role: I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, investigating emergency preparedness and decision making during critical cases of equine colic. I have over 8 years’ experience within the veterinary industry, having worked as both a small animal veterinary receptionist and nursing assistant in an equine hospital, prior to undertaking my PhD research.  

Stat of the day - Up to 24% of colic cases seen by the vet may be critical and require referral for specialist treatment, or euthanasia

Top Tip:  

Prevention of colic is multi-factorial. However, for the cases that I see two factors appear to play a key role – changes in diet and parasites. The first is ensuring where possible that changes in diet are made gradually. There is currently a lot of research being conducted on the microbiome (the bugs that live in the gut) and the role that they play in colic. It’s thought that the gut flora take several weeks to adapt to changes in diet. The second is to ensure that exposure of horses to internal parasites is kept to a minimum – poo pick every two days Spring to Autumn and once weekly in the Winter. Find out more in our ‘Reducing the Risk of Colic’ leaflet. 

Professor Gayle Hallowell MA VetMB PhD CertVA DipACVIM-LAIM DipACVECC PFHEA FRCVS

Professor of Veterinary Internal Medicine and Critical Care, University of Nottingham
RCVS Specialist in Equine Internal Medicine and Emergency and Critical Care, American Specialist in Large Animal Internal Medicine and Emergency and Critical Care, Associate Diplomate of the European College of Veterinary Diagnostic Imaging and Advanced Practitioner in Veterinary Anaesthesia.

Stat of the day - In Nottingham’s studies, 47% of all cases of colic had had a recent change in management

Top Tip:  

Time is of the essence if your horse needs surgery so making sure that you have everything in place to transport your horse safely and quickly to a hospital is of paramount importance. Vital time can be lost locating passports, lorry keys or arranging transportation. Some hospitals will also require a deposit to be taken on admission, especially if your horse is not insured so make sure that you have means of payment. It is also extremely important that you think about what is right for your horse and also for yourself in advance – instant decisions made in extremely stressful situations may not be the right ones so take time to think through the considerations and discuss these with friends. Hopefully it will never happen, but now is the right time to create a detailed plan for how you would deal with an emergency before the situation arises. Find out more in our ‘What happens at referral’ leaflet.

Dr John Burford MA VetMB PhD CertVA CertES SFHEA FRCVS

Job role: Associate Professor in Equine Surgery 

Experience: John qualified in 2001 and throughout his career has dealt with colic cases in both first opinion practice and referral hospitals. He was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, an extremely prestigious award reserved for those who have made substantial contributions to the profession, for his work on factors which influence further episodes of colic after surgery. John joined the University of Nottingham in 2010

Stat of the day - The average cost of colic surgery is just under £6,500 – most insurance policies have a limit of £5,000. Therefore you need to think carefully about what you can afford to spend.

*Research by the University of Nottingham on costs for referrals and insurance policies is coming soon 


Top Tip:  

Making life and death decisions is one of the most difficult aspects of horse ownership. We always want to do what is best for our horses and that should be a balance of the best case outcome for a horse with colic and risks of complications or impact on quality of life. In many situations, a horse’s quality of life after colic surgery is excellent, but other factors may impact on whether you believe your horse’s life after surgery will be good. Having that discussion with someone you trust before your horse develops colic allows you to plan for the unexpected and consider how you would afford your chosen outcome, for example considering insurance. Making those decisions before the stressful time of your horse showing signs of severe pain will make it easier for you to rationally consider your horse’s general quality of life. End of life decisions are very difficult. Find out more in the Quality of Life leaflet or if you need any support contact Friends at the End

Mark Bowen BVetMed MMedSci(MedEd) PhD Cert VA Cert EM(IntMed) Dip ECVSMR Dip ACVIM-LAIM PFHEA FRCVS

Clinical Professor of Veterinary Internal Medicine at University of Nottingham and Oakham Veterinary Hospital. CVS and EBVS specialist in equine internal medicine with expertise and numerous publications in equine cardiology, diagnostic imaging and gastric disease. Former BEVA president and Fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Stat of the day - Over 60% of critical cases are euthanased by the primary vet and are not sent for referral treatment

Top Tip:  

Create your ‘REACT’ action plan now!

MONITOR – start regularly measuring and recording your horse’s temperature, pulse (heart) and respiratory rate so you know what is normal.
PLAN – think about what treatment you would want for your horse and check financial and transportation plans are up to date.
INFORM – let those close to you and your horse know what you would like to happen in the event you are unavailable during an emergency to prevent delays.
REACT – be familiar with what signs could indicate colic so that veterinary treatment can be sought as quickly as possible.



Katie Lightfoot BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science

I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Nottingham’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, investigating emergency preparedness and decision making during critical cases of equine colic. I have over 8 years’ experience within the veterinary industry, having worked as both a small animal veterinary receptionist and nursing assistant in an equine hospital, prior to undertaking my PhD research.  

Stat of the day - The British Horse Society have distributed over 30,000 REACT packs since the campaign launched in 2016 – have you got one yet…?


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