Colic.. As a horse owner this is probably the worse case scenario for our horses. It is estimated that 90% of horse owners can’t spot the early signs of colic, so understanding some of these is crucial to help your horse.
Most owners can recognise classic signs of colic, such as a horse rolling a lot, but there are several subtle signs that can be easily missed. Spotting these early means faster treatment for your horse, and a better prognosis and outcome. Think of colic signs as a jigsaw puzzle, one sign on its own doesn’t definitely mean your horse has colic, but putting a few together certainly means speaking to your vet. If in any doubt do call your vet for a chat, time is certainly of the essence when it comes to colic.
Knowing what is normal for your horse is so important, and please don’t forget that you are the expert on your horse. If you have the type of horse who is always rushing between the door and the haynet then this might not be a cause for concern, as this is their normal. However your horse being unsettled or restless should not be dismissed, as this could be a sign of colic which is easy to miss.
This does depend on what is normal for your horse, but the vast majority of horses do finish all their feeds up. If your horse hasn’t eaten, or has left half of its dinner this is worth noting. What other signs can you spot? If your horse is a bit of a pig then this will be a very easy to spot sign.
If you’re mucking out before work, and you’re in a hurry it’s easy to think “oh not so much poo today, I’ll muck out again later it must be buried.” Whilst that might be the case alarm bells should be ringing if you find that your horse has passed less droppings over night. Again this is another essential ‘normal’ parameter to know for your horse. Also do note any changes of consistency in the droppings, whilst this might not be a cause for alarm on its own do consider if you can find any other potential colic signs (see the next point).
If your horse has had a sudden change of diet, i.e. more grass, escaped into a lusher field, or there has been a lot more rain you might notice that your horse’s droppings before looser. Changes in the consistency of your horses’s droppings shouldn’t be ignored, and whilst they can be easily explained away as being due to a change of paddock, or new grass but it could indicate colic.
Whilst there could be a good reason for your horse being tired (sudden warm weather, the day after a long show) this could be an early indicator of a colic case. Every horse is an individual but you will know what is normal for your horse, do they normally canter off when you turn them out, do they often have a quiet time in the stable or not?
Some owners report that their horse was simply a bit ‘off’ when they have colic, or perhaps they are quiet, or seem depressed or miserable. We all react to pain and discomfort differently and our horses are just the same. One might be rolling around in agony, whilst another horse is quietly standing at the back of the stable. Colic in donkeys is particularly difficult to spot due to their stoic nature.
If your horse has colic changes in clinical parameters such as increased respiration rate and heart rate can be noticed. Mucus membranes are often overlooked however, but dry tacky gums should not be ignored. Next time you’re at the yard have a quick look at your horse’s gums (if they are happy with this, don’t get headbutted!), they should be a pale pink colour, and moist. A change in the gums can be give some very valuable information, but can be easily missed.
If you suspect that your horse might have colic then it is essential to call your vet ASAP. Not all cases of colic require surgery, but a better prognosis and outcome for your horse is more likely with faster veterinary treatment. Don’t forget to stay safe, and remember it is ok for a horse with colic to roll.