Dr. Tania Sundra

04 April 2018

Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts of Colic

C O L I C – 5 letters that horse owners dread hearing

But what should you do when you notice your horse displaying typical signs of colic ? And (more importantly) what shouldn’t you do ?

1. Call. Your. Vet. Asking for help on a facebook page is not going to miraculously cure your horse from colic.

2. Remove all feed. Continuing to feed a colicky horse can make an already bad situation, worse. Horses are funny creatures, they will sometimes continue to eat despite uncontrollable abdominal pain. Remove their feed.

3. Take your horse’s vitals if it’s safe to do so. Apart from your horse’s behaviour, the heart rate is one of the most informative parameters in determining your horse’s level of pain. A rapid heart rate is usually an indicator of pain. Some draft horse breeds, who are quite stoic, may only show mild outward signs of colic but have a heart rate of 80. This is extremely useful information to pass onto your vet over the phone.

4. Turn some lights on and make sure your phone is charged and handy. Finding horse properties in the middle of the night can be challenging for us vets! Ensuring your place is well lit and having your phone with you will mean we can find you easily or at least call for directions!

5. To walk or not to walk ? I often give this advice to clients who call me : If your horse is standing quietly or laying quietly then leave them be. If they are going up and down and can’t seem to get comfortable, then walk them. I don’t recommend you walk your horse endlessly as you can literally walk them into exhaustion.

6. Do not administer any medication without first discussing this with your vet. Your vet will need to perform a full physical examination on your horse before they can make a treatment plan. Administering drugs to your horse before your vet arrives may mask your horse’s pain which means they may not be able to accurately diagnose or treat your horse.

7. Do not attempt to tube or syringe any substances into your horse’s mouth. Firstly, some horses may be showing signs of colic because their stomach is too full – adding more fluids may cause your horse’s stomach to rupture. There is no treatment that will save your horse if this occurs. Secondly, incorrect placement of any fluids may lead your horse to developing a life-threatening aspiration pneumonia.

8. Don’t opt for a wait-and-see approach. If your horse is showing signs of pain, call your vet immediately. Delaying treatment may lead to a poor prognosis for your horse.

9. Plan ahead. Whilst the majority of colics, if recognised and treated promptly will respond well, some may require referral to a hospital. Your vet may advise you to float your horse into a referral center for medical or surgical intervention. Make sure you have a float available or access to one so you don’t delay in getting your horse to a hospital.

10. Don’t deviate from the treatment plan laid out by your vet. If we advise you to withhold feed from your horse overnight, then please do so. If we ask you to confine your horse to a yard so that you can monitor his manure production, please don’t decide to turn him out into a 100 acre paddock with his mates. For example, if your
horse has an impaction colic, he would have likely received some sort of pain relief from your vet. Imagine the impaction is the size of a softball at this stage. The pain meds will make him feel good and he will want to eat. Feeding a horse who has an impaction before he begins to pass manure is counter-productive and you could end up with an impaction the size of a football. And when the pain meds wear off, you could be dealing with an even bigger problem!

Take Home Message :
Colic should always be considered an emergency. The majority of colics can be resolved easily with early veterinary intervention. Opting for a wait-and-see approach will inevitably mean you could be left dealing with a worsening situation, that could have been prevented had you acted sooner.

Dr Tania Sundra BSc.(Hons) BVMS
Avon Ridge Equine Veterinary Services – A full service, mobile equine practice offering
veterinary care 24/7.
0427 072 095