What Is Colic in Adults?

Updated February 21, 2017

Colic is a term that describes a wide array of stomach and digestive issues in horses. Horses are incapable of regurgitation; so stomach upset can prove to be extremely complicated and possibly fatal. Colic is most likely in very young and very old horses, although some adult horses are prone to colic throughout their lifetimes. People who have horses are advised to learn the signs of possible colic so that they can recognise it and call the veterinarian for treatment.


Although no one can say precisely what causes colic, the issue has been divided into two general categories of similar symptoms and base difficulties: gas and impaction colic. Gas colic happens when gas becomes trapped in a horse's digestive system. Though painful, gas colic is less serious than impaction colic. An impaction is a physical blockage in a horse's gut, caused by either food or manure. This colic can require surgery.


While the reason behind colic is unknown, experts believe that most likely a number of reasons cause colic episodes. A case of colic is unique to the horse and depends on that horse's medical history and individual life. The biggest influences for colic are diet, weather and environment. Horses that experience frequent disruptions such as travel are more likely to colic. Once a horse colics, he is likely to colic repeatedly through his life.


When horses colic, the signs are obvious. An adult horse's first symptoms include pacing and obvious discomfort. This progresses to pawing, laying down, rolling and even thrashing. A horse that has colic will refuse food and look at its stomach repeatedly. The best way to confirm colic is to listen to a horse's stomach; lack of any sound from the stomach area means that a blockage is probable.


Mild colic episodes do not require treatment, although owners are encouraged to hand walk afflicted horses to keep their circulation up and encourage the reason for the colic to pass. Serious cases of colic require veterinary treatment. Vets begin treatment with the injection of a painkiller such as Banamine or flunixin. This calms the horse, and it is followed by snaking a tube through the horse's nose, down her throat and into her stomach. Mineral oil to help lubricate any blockages is passed through this tube. Very serious cases of colic may be treated surgically.


Colic can be fatal, especially to very old horses. If an impaction is serious, it can disrupt a horse's digestive tract to the point that recovery is impossible. Impactions often lead to situations in which organs become displaced or die. Older horses do not have a good prognosis in this case; surgeries can be quite expensive, and an aged horse has a limited ability to come through the surgery safely or heal afterward.

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