Colic - The Word Strikes Fear in the Hearts of Horse Owners


The word colic simply means “belly pain”. There are many different causes of colic in horses, ranging from simple GI upset, to sand accumulations, to intestinal stone formation, to more serious causes such as displacements and twists of the intestines themselves.

First, I always recommend giving your vet a call even if you think you want to try dealing with a colic yourself first. As someone who has had MANY a dinner, party, sleep, etc interrupted by such things, I and every vet I know appreciate at least a head’s up – and maybe she is in the area and can swing by early. I would MUCH prefer to see you and your horse early at 2pm before I head out on the town that evening.
 
Second, know that prompt veterinary intervention can make a huge difference in outcome when you are dealing with a colic. If your horse has a surgical condition, waiting it out and THEN deciding that you want surgical help is not going to have a good outcome as intestine may be dying off while you are waiting. There are certain things we look for – heart rate, GI sounds, whether the horse has uncontrollable pain – that help us determine whether a horse is a surgical candidate or not. The sooner horses with colic that need surgery have that surgery, the better their survival rates.

For a simple and mild colic, most veterinarians will agree with trying a dose of Banamine first. Getting control of the pain and getting the horse to feel better with medication is the primary goal in colic management.

Banamine is a pain reliever that is available by prescription from your veterinarian. It comes in paste and injectable forms. I prefer most owners to keep Banamine paste on hand, unless they are capable of giving an IV injection. While Banamine can be given IM, there is a possibility of a very bad muscle infection happening secondary to the injection called clostridial myositis that will make a horse very sick and is often fatal. Paste is safer. You can also give the injectable version of Banamine orally. Please ask your equine vet for an appropriate dose of Banamine for the size of horse you have.

I usually tell people it is OK for them to try Banamine ONCE. The paste version usually takes 20-30 minutes to kick in. If, after that time, the colic symptoms seem to abate and the horse is again interested in eating and drinking, then the Banamine has done it’s job.

IF you give Banamine, and within one hour the horse (a) does not improve at all (b) improves for a little while but then goes back downhill, it absolutely needs to be seen by a veterinarian. A single dose of Banamine will give good pain control for 6-8 hours. I DO NOT recommend giving a horse a second dose of Banamine without having the horse examined and treated by a veterinarian.

A lot of people ask me about giving mineral oil orally to a horse. First of all, mineral oil has no pain killing properties. Giving only mineral oil and not addressing the pain component of the colic probably isn’t going to work. Second, there are many causes of colic and although impaction is one of the most common, mineral oil can complicate a surgical case of colic. Third, it takes A LOT of mineral oil to make a difference in an impaction, and this is assuming that the colic is an impaction or sand, and not something else. This is why we as vets carry mineral oil in gallons. A few syringe fulls is not going to make a lot of difference.

Fourth, I personally feel that the water and electrolytes that are given along with the mineral oil via a nasogastric tube make MUCH more difference than the mineral oil does. Honest. Normal horse poop contains a LOT of water, and so the best way to get fecal matter softened up is not only with mineral oil but also water as well. I can give 5-7 gallons of water to a horse via tube quickly and efficiently. Fifth, other kinds of oil, like vegetable oil or olive oil from your kitchen will likely not work – a horse will mostly digest this kind of oil.

I am not a huge believer in walking a mildly colicky horse. He gets tired, you get tired, everyone gets cranky. If the mildly colicky horse is content to either stand quietly, or lay down sternally (like sitting up) and quietly, then I recommend just letting them be. If the horse is rolling or throwing itself down uncontrollably, then it needs to be walked and you need to have a vet come out and examine it ASAP.

The biggest key here is that you really do need to have a good working relationship with your equine vet, even if you want to try to keep the costs down and treat a colic yourself. Horsekeeping is surely not for the faint of heart, nor the faint of checkbook.

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