🐴 What are the signs & symptoms of colic in horses?

Colic is what every horse owner fears. It can range in severity from a passing moment of indigestion to a painful horrific death. The best way to protect your horse is to be prepared to recognize colic as early in the onset of the affliction as possible. The earlier you recognize and report a colic situation to your vet the higher the probability for a complete recovery. Remember, horses are creatures of habit and although this can be a frustrating personality trait at times (i.e. during training) it is also a blessing in disguise since any self-induced change in a horse’s  behavior is immediately apparent to an observant owner. Here is the American Association of Equine Practitioners list of the signs and symptoms of colic:

  • Turning the head toward the flank
  • Kicking or biting at the abdomen
  • Rolling, especially violent rolling
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of bowel movement
  • Sweating profusely
  • Elevated pulse rate of more than 52 beats per minute
  • Lip curling (Flehmen response)
  • Pawing
  • Stretching out as if to urinate without doing so
  • Sitting in a dog-like position or lying on the back
  • Putting head down to water without drinking
  • Absence of, or reduced, digestive sounds
  • Rapid respiration and/or flared nostrils
  • Depression
  • Cool extremities

Horses who are suffering from colic can exhibit anywhere from one to all of these symptoms. The majority of these symptoms are outward signs of the intense pain that the horse is experiencing. What is important to understand is that often colic can actually be a symptom of a more severe health problem like peritonitis (infection of the abdominal cavity), colitis, Potomac horse fever or even cancer. Sometimes horses can show colic-like signs for conditions that are not even abdominally related like laminitis, shipping fever or tying up. All these factors make diagnosing and treating colic a complicated process for your vet. Therefore, the sooner you can recognize the signs of colic the sooner your vet can get your horse on the road to recovery. For more information on the effects, causes, prevention and treatment of colic check out the following titles: