How to Cure Colic in Horses and Ponies

Two Parts:Diagnosing and Treating ColicPreventing Colic

If you find your horse exhibiting strange behavior such as rolling repeatedly, pawing or kicking at his belly, or refusing food and water, he could be experiencing colic. Colic is more a symptom than a disease itself. Any number of problems can cause discomfort in that area, and all of them fall under colic.[1] Similar to a stomach ache in humans, colic is common but can cause serious issues with your horse or pony's gastrointestinal tract. Consult with a veterinarian as soon as possible, as he or she may need to do surgery on your horse, depending on the cause. It's important to identify and cure this malady before it gets out of hand.

Part 1
Diagnosing and Treating Colic

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    Know the symptoms of colic. The symptoms of colic can vary based on how severe the colic is. Though the pain is in the stomach, your horse may show signs that don't automatically point to the stomach.[2]
    • Mild colic may exhibit in your horse as restlessness, such as pawing at the ground. Your horse also may keep curling his lips or keep looking around to his backside.[3]
    • In a moderate case, your horse may want to lay down more often. He may also pee more often.[4]
    • With severe cases, your horse may start rolling on the ground with violent motions. You may also see in an increase in respiration and sweat.[5]
    • Symptoms of gas colic in particular are loud noises in the abdominal area and gut pain that comes and goes.[6]
    • Impacted colic may prevent the horse from defecating, and he may not want to eat. He will also have pain in the abdomen.[7] Horses should defecate at least 6 times in a 24-hour period, so you should be on the lookout if you suspect your horse has colic.[8]
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    Check the horse's temperature. A horse's temperature should be between about 99 degrees and 101 degrees Fahrenheit. You can use a rectal thermometer designed for horses to check your horse's temperature. If it's elevated, that's another indication your horse could be colicky.[9]
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    Get your horse up and walking. Only try to treat the horse yourself if he is exhibiting mild symptoms of colic. If the horse is already in the moderate or severe stage, move on to calling the vet. The first step to treating your horse yourself is to get him moving.[10]
    • Walk your horse around for about 30 minutes.[11] Walking can help your horse if the colic is caused by gas. It may also provide a distraction from the pain he's experiencing. However, walking him too long can make him tired if he's already feeling bad.[12]
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    Know when to call the veterinarian. If your horse is continuously looking at his side and even trying to bite that area, it's time to call the vet.[13]
    • Other symptoms that tell you it's time to call the vet are if your horse is laying down too much, not eating, or not defecating.[14]
    • Also call the vet if your horse's pulse is over 50 beats a minute.[15]
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    Remove all sources of food.[16] Because colic is often linked to your horse's food, it's important to keep him away from any potential dangers until a cause is found. If the colic is caused by an impacted colon, adding more food to his intestine will not help the situation.
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    Let the professionals work. When your vet arrives, he will perform a full examination, though he won't likely be able to pinpoint the exact cause. He will, however, be able to tell you how severe the problem is and what the best course of treatment is.[17]
    • Be prepared to answer questions about your routine, worming process, and feed type.
    • Your veterinarian may do a rectal examination or a belly tap. A belly tap is a process where the horse is sedated and a tube is passed through his nose into his stomach.[18] The belly tap can be helpful in two ways. It can determine if there's fluid in the stomach (which needs to be drained), and it's a way to give the horse mineral oil, which can relieve an impaction by lubricating it. This process can also be way to hydrate the horse.[19]
    • Rectal exams allow the vet to check for problems in the intestine, such as feeling for an impaction.[20]
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    Move on to painkillers. Depending on the determined cause, the vet may treat your horse with pain relieving drugs, such as analgesics like banamine. Most horses need some type of painkiller.[21] Also, your vet may administer laxatives; the mineral oil in the previous step is an example of an laxative he may use to treat an impaction.[22]
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    Ask about IV fluids. If your horse is severely dehydrated, your vet may need to provide him with IV fluids to help with the re-hydration process. You may need to change the bag at some point, so ask your vet for a demonstration if you aren't sure how to do it.[23]
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    Check when you can return to feeding your horse. In the case of an impaction, your horse needs to be off food until the impaction is cleared. Ask your vet how long you should wait after he defecates before you can feed him or if you need to look for a particular sign to return him to feed.[24]
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    Be slow about returning the horse to work. Once the symptoms ease, you can start the horse back to work. However, don't put him on a full day's work at first. Slowly ease him back into his work schedule as he continues to recover.[25]
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    Understand surgery may be required. Often, colic can be resolved by treatment from the veterinarian at your stable. However, if your horse has a problem such as twisted intestines, he will likely need to go to the hospital and have surgery performed.[26]
    • Just because your veterinarian refers you to a hospital does not automatically mean your horse will have surgery. The hospital will first check to see how treatment is working to determine whether he needs surgery. If he doesn't, the hospital can provide more intensive care for severe cases.[27]
    • In some cases, the horse will need to be euthanized because the colic is so bad.[28] However, this outcome is less likely with current medical practices.[29]
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    Continue to evaluate your horse. Check him at two-hour intervals following initial treatment to ensure symptoms ease up. If they don't ease, call your veterinarian again.
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    Educate yourself on the types. Colic can come in a number of forms. From impaction to gas and other diseases, the causes of your horse's colic can vary widely.[30]
    • Impaction is when food is backed in the horse's gut somewhere. It hurts the horse because the intestines are trying to get the food to move, but it won't dislodge.[31]
    • Another type of colic is caused by gas. Horses do have gas as a normal part of everyday life, but sometimes extreme gas causes discomfort because it expands the gut.[32]
    • Still another type of colic is caused by what's known as "intestinal accidents," meaning injuries to abdominal organs, such as when the intestines have a twist in them or the colon moves out of place.[33]
    • Stomach and intestine diseases can also cause colic. For instance, colitis and ulcers can cause symptoms of colic.[34]
    • "False colic" is when the horse exhibits symptoms of colic, but the cause is something outside of the abdomen, such as laminitis or bladder stones.[35]

Part 2
Preventing Colic

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    Provide plenty of fresh water. One cause of impaction can be dehydration. Horses need constant water; even being without water for an hour or so can cause problems. Making sure it is fresh is important, because horses may ignore water that isn't as fresh as they'd like it to be.[36]
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    Schedule regular dental care. Dental health is important for maintaining healthy horses.[37] Good teeth encourage your horse to chew properly, which makes an impaction less likely.[38]
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    Give your horse enough roughage. Horses need roughage to make sure food moves through their system as it should. Therefore, ensure your horse has fresh hay available or is allowed to graze in a pasture every day.[39]
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    Provide food in troughs. If you give your horse food on the ground, your horse may accidentally eat other things that are not food. If your horse eats enough of these other particles, it can block his bowels. For instance, your horse may eat too much sand with the hay, causing problems.[40]
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    Exercise your horse regularly. Regular exercise keeps your horse in a routine and can also move the bowels along. Make sure to encourage exercise at least once a day.[41]
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    De-worm on a regular basis. You provide some de-wormers daily, while others require you to give them less often; your vet can help you determine the best kind for your horses. This process helps control parasites, and an excess of parasites can sometimes lead to colic in horses.[42]
    • Ask your veterinarian about de-worming foals, as they may require special treatment.[43]


  • It can be difficult to determine the exact cause based on the severity of the signs, so be sure to involve your vet for a professional diagnosis.


  • Horses with severe colic can be dangerous to work with and require proper sedation before treatment can begin.[44]

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Categories: Horse Health