If your horse has colic, it is a stressful time and it’s easy to panic. Noticing early signs of colic (you can read more here) and getting in touch with your vet straight away will give your horse the best possible chance of a speedy recovery. I’ve outlined six key things that you need to tell your vet if you think that your horse might have colic. Your vet will ask you plenty of questions to help assess more about the case, and it is really helpful for them to know more about what is happening before they arrive on the yard.
1. When was your horse last normal?
It is easy to focus on how long you think any colic symptoms and signs have been present but we can’t watch our horses all day every day. You need to think back to when your horse was last normal and not try and guess how long he or she has been ‘colicking’ for. If your horse was sweating and rolling in the morning, showing clear colic signs, you can’t guess that this started at 2am, but have to assume that it has been going on throughout the night.
Whilst horses should of course be checked twice a day sometimes owners don’t manage this, so do be honest with your vet. If you haven’t seen your horse for 36 hours just say.
2. What signs and symptoms is your horse displaying?
There are lots of early colic signs and these can be easily missed. On our Horse First Aid Courses we teach the importance of knowing normal for your horse. For instance knowing how many droppings your horse normally passes, knowing your horse’s normal behaviour and personality can help you notice a problem sooner. Also monitor vital signs such as temperature, pulse and respiration so that you have a baseline ‘normal’ to compare to if your horse is unwell. Some early colic signs include your horse not passing as many droppings as normal, or a change in the consistency of the droppings. Your horse may not be eating and drinking as normal, or your horse may appear quiet, dull, depressed or sad. Horses are individuals and will express pain and discomfort differently, others may be agitated and box walking. You might find your horse posturing as if he needs to urinate, this is often confused by owners as the horse having a urinary infection, however it is more often a sign of colic.
You may notice more classic signs of colic such as your horse rolling, sweating, pawing the ground or an increased breathing rate. You might spot some facial abrasions on your horse’s head in the morning, indicating that they have been rolling overnight.
There are many signs to note, but what is important is to take action quickly, for example if you noticed one morning that your horse hasn’t finished its breakfast, seem quiet and has passed less droppings than normal it would be very sensible to call the vet. Many cases of colic can be managed medically without surgery but prompt veterinary intervention is required.
3. Have you made any management changes?
It is useful to tell your vet about any changes to your horse’s management, feed or routine, as such changes can often trigger an episode of colic. For example tell the vet if you have changed your horse’s feed recently, maybe you have moved from hay to Haylage perhaps or suddenly stopped soaking your horses hay. Also tell your vet if your horses routine has changed, perhaps your horse is having more turnout time or maybe there’s been a patch of bad weather and the horses have been staying in. Also if your horse has been suddenly on enforced box rest again tell your vet, ditto if you have recently wormed your horse.
4. Have you given any medication?
Tell your vet if your horse is on any long term medication or has been given any medication. As an owner you should never ‘self medicate’ your horse, but some horses are given long-term anti-inflammatory medication such as ‘bute for existing conditions. In a case of colic some owners may be tempted to give their horse medication if they have some on the yard, but this is not advisable or recommended. If you give medication it makes it much harder for your vet to assess the true picture, and more difficult to assess the extent of the colic case. Just with humans we wouldn’t take strong painkillers and then visit the doctor or hospital, as this would cloud the picture for diagnosis. Pain relief will mask the extent of the signs and symptoms, meaning that the colic could be worse than it appears.
5. Has your horse had colic before?
If your horse has previously had colic then do mention this to your vet, although they will have access to your horse’s medical history it’s worth highlighting previous bouts of colic. This could potentially help your vet spot a pattern, or seasonal correlation to the colic, and might help them with diagnosis.
6. Any previous colic surgery?
Horses who have previous had colic surgery are more likely to suffer from colic again in the future. Again it is certainly sensible to mention this to your vet.
Horsey emergencies are a stressful time for any horse owner, but it’s essential to stay calm and not put yourself in any danger. Remember to call your vet immediately (even if it’s just to chat over the phone), and that not all cases of colic result in surgery.