Recognizing the Signs of Colic in Horses [What You Need to Know]

The connection between horse and human can be almost supernatural, so when your equine companion does not seem to be themselves, it could be a sign of horse colic. Obvious signs are easy to recognize, but a lack of energy, disengaging personality, or just anything that is outside of their personality needs to be addressed immediately. Read on for more information about colic horse signs and its treatment and prevention.

Colic In Horses

Colic is not a disorder in itself, but rather a descriptor for general abdominal pain.

Types of Horse Colic

The severity of colic depends on the type of colic your horse is experiencing. There are 2 types:


  • Spasmodic Colic - experiencing discomfort from gas in the digestive system
  • Impaction Colic - discomfort caused by a blockage source

Spasmodic colic is the less severe of the two, whereas impaction colic is more serious and usually involves more intense treatment.

Colic Horse Signs

You can tell when something is off with your horse, so go with your gut if something doesn’t seem right. Further careful observation can help you determine if colic is the problem and follow-up veterinary care is needed. Signs and symptoms of horse colic include, but are not limited to:

  • Change in personality/normal activity
  • Pawing at the ground
  • Rolling on the ground
  • Wanting to lie down
  • Reduced or absent defecation
  • Change in appetite
  • Unexplained increased sweating
  • Looking at flank (stomach area)

Some symptoms will require basic diagnostic medical equipment every horse owner should have in their stable, including a rectal thermometer and a stethoscope, to check for:

  • High pulse rate (50+ BPM, or beats per minute)
  • Drop in temperature
  • Lack of normal gut noises

Treatment of Horse Colic

The duration of the bout of colic can significantly alter the treatment and overall impact of horse colic. THIS IS NOT A WAIT AND SEE CONDITION. As soon as you suspect colic, contact your veterinarian. While you wait, stay with your horse. If you cannot stay with them constantly, you must check on them every 15-20 minutes at a minimum.


Spasmodic colic can usually be easily treated with Banamine (flunixin meglumine) for pain relief, and a regimen of gentle exercise and monitored food and water. Sometimes in more severe cases, a nasogastric tube is used to relieve the pressure of the gas.


Mild to moderate cases of impaction horse colic caused by an inability to defecate are usually treated with a laxative as mild as mineral oil, or a prescription laxative for more severe cases.


If laxative does not work, or if there is a suspicion or verification of a twisted bowel, emergency surgery is needed.

Causes of Horse Colic

Spasmodic and impaction colic are not that different than when we as humans do not eat properly, overeat, or get dehydrated. A horse allowed to free-graze on a new green spring pasture may develop spasmodic horse colic because it overindulges on the yummy new shoots.


Other potential causes of horse colic include:

  • Dehydration
  • Insufficient roughage
  • Poor dental health
  • Too much grain in diet
  • Internal parasites
  • Excessive sand ingestion

Preventing Horse Colic

Since colic is primarily a condition triggered by actions and behaviors, it can be prevented for the most part through due diligence by their humans, by simple steps such as providing:

  • Ready access to clean water
  • Using a water heater in cold weather to ensure temperature is what your horse will drink (most horses do not like ice-cold water)
  • Quality hay or clean pasture
  • Limited access to sandy areas of grazing
  • Grain only on occasion
  • Parasite management/prevention protocol
  • Regular dental check-ups

More Horse Colic Tips

You want to be ready to assist them whenever and however necessary. Care can be exhausting, but being proactive can keep a simple case of horse colic from turning into an emergency, or help you be ready if, unfortunately, it becomes one. Some steps you can take are:

  • Do monthly checks and maintenance on your horse trailer.
  • Set up emergency access to a horse trailer if you do not have one.
  • Do not attempt a diagnosis or treatment on your own.
  • Do not attempt an enema for impaction. A horse’s rectum is very fragile, and you can create much greater problems.
  • Keep your horse sequestered to a small area.
  • Keep them moving with gentle walks.

General Horse Care Tips

The love between you and your horse is mutual, but general care is a one-way street. You can help your horse stay healthy and happy through a daily regimen of cleaning and care, using Equiderma, the World’s Greatest Equine Products. Click here to learn more and to shop for equine skin care and other products.

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