The term colic describes any condition that causes pain within the abdomen. The causes of colic span an entire range from a very mild spasmodic (indigestion-like) colic to a surgical condition such as a twist in the intestines. Several other conditions can mimic colic such as tying-up and choke.
What are the signs of colic?
There are several cardinal signs of colic and these can appear individually or in combination. If your horse is repeatedly pawing the ground, grinding its teeth, looking at the flank, rolling, straining (including appearing to have difficulty passing urine), and/or stretching out the legs then colic is very likely. Many horses will sweat-up and be off their feed.
What should I do if I suspect my horse is suffering from colic?
The first action is to phone the surgery and speak to one of the vets. We will talk through with you what signs you have observed and what action is appropriate.
Should I walk my horse?Walking any horse that is colicing is beneficial so long as they are not going to injure you or themselves whilst being led. Walking stimulates bowel movement and relieves some pain. Please call the office if you are unsure as to what is appropriate.
What is involved in diagnosing the cause of colic?
Accurately diagnosing the cause of colic can be very difficult. The most important decision to be made is whether there is a need for surgical intervention. This decision is not easy as colic presents in many ways and will progress unpredicatably. The heart rate, respiratory rate, bowel sounds and mucous membrane colour provide a lot of information regarding the severity or progression of the colic. Additional information is obtained from internal examinations including palpation per rectum and through the passing of stomach tubes. Very often the first visit to the colic will result in resolution of the pain without a full diagnosis of the cause. The first visit will also provide a "baseline" to enable the progression of the colic to be tracked and a decision regarding treatment to be made.
What is the procedure if my horse requires colic surgery?
If your horse requires surgery you will be referred to a specialist surgical unit. Colic surgery requires a dedicated and experienced team and we have very good relations with several centres who will provide the best service available. It is essential that you have access to transport: either your own or provided by a third party. Colic commonly occurs at night and delays in getting transport quickly can have very serious implications for a successful outcome at surgery.
Is colic surgery expensive?
The short answer is yes. Colic surgery will result in a total bill for several thousand pounds. Unfortunately the mortality rate for horses undergoing surgery is still very high with approximately 1 in four horses not surviving up to a year following surgery. If your horse in unlucky enough not to survive surgery you will still be liable for a large bill. For this reason having your horse fully insured is highly recommended.