Groundbreaking Equine Colic Research Project: First Study Results Published

Experts in one of the most dangerous health problems in horses have just published

new research which could transform the way the condition is diagnosed and treated by vets and horse-owners.

The two new studies, carried out by researchers at The University of Nottingham’s Vet School in the United Kingdome, have looked at the first assessment of more than 1,000 horses with colic, and also asked more than 200 veterinarians how they go about diagnosing colic.

The papers are published in the Vet Record and Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. Both papers are available under the Open Access system of publishing. They are the first published analysis of the initial presentation of colic and identification of key early differences between critical and non-critical cases, and to comparison of how first evaluations of horses are conducted by vets. 

The research is intended to help owners and vets recognize critical cases as early as possible, and improve the selection of diagnostic tests used to assess horses with signs of colic.

In the conclusion of the Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica paper, the authors state that their work is “the first study comparing non-critical and critical cases of abdominal pain on primary presentation to the veterinary practitioner. It highlights the importance of behavioral manifestations of pain, heart rate, pulse character, mucous membrane color and gastrointestinal borborygmi in the primary triage of critical cases, and should be considered essential aspects of first veterinary examination.”

This table documents the physical activity of the horses during their colic, as published in “Prospective study of the primary evaluation of 1016 horses with clinical signs of abdominal pain by veterinary practitioners, and the differentiation of critical and non-critical cases” by Curtis et al on October 6, 2015 in Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica.

The paper published in Vet Record analyzes the various diagnostic criteria used by veterinarians on the cases and their selection of tests performed on the horses.

Colic is the most common emergency problem in horses and is one of the main causes of death. Causes range from intestinal spasms to the gut dying due to becoming trapped; the difference in causes can make diagnosis difficult.

The Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica paper details 1,016 horses who were assessed for colic by veterinarians and lists the number of cases by cause (large colon impaction, large color displacement, gas, spasmodic, strangulating lesion, etc.). 

An early and accurate diagnosis is crucial in trying to prevent cases becoming critical or fatal. The research has found that there was a marked variation in how the cohort of 228 veterinary practitioners who took part in the survey approached suspected colic. It also identified some of the main factors that affect vets’ decisions, including safety concerns of performing some procedures in the field.

The research team has developed an online survey for vets and horse-owners to develop some new guidelines on the recognition and diagnosis of colic, and are working with equine organizations and charities to disseminate the final outcomes of new “best practice” guidelines.

Sarah Freeman, BVetMed, PhD, CertVA, CertVR, CertES, DipECVS, FHEA, MRCVS, professor in veterinary surgery at the Nottingham Vet School, said: ‘Our research has shown that colic is the condition that horse owners consider to be the most important emergency problem, and one of the most common ‘out of hours’ emergencies seen by vets. It can have catastrophic consequences without any warning, and is probably one of the most painful conditions the horse can suffer, so it has huge health and welfare impacts.’

PhD student, Laila Curtis, dedicated her PhD to her horse, Albert, who died from colic. She said: ‘If the Nottingham Colic Project can save one life by improving the recognition, diagnosis and therefore treatment of colic, I would consider that an enormous achievement.’

More information on the project is available at

• • • • •

Links to the survey on the guidelines for vets and owners are:

VET survey:

OWNER survey:

• • • • •

Links to the full research papers:

‘Prospective study of the primary evaluation of 1016 horses with clinical signs of abdominal pain by veterinary practitioners, and the differentiation of critical and non-critical cases’.

‘Veterinary practitioners’ selection of diagnostic tests for the primary evaluation of colic in the horse.’

Background of top photo by Sini Merikallio.

Information provided by the University of Nottingham was utilized in the preparation of this article.




Related Posts

Gray horse head in profile on EQ Extra 89 cover
What we’ve learned about PPID
Do right by your retired horse
Tame your horse’s anxiety
COVER EQ_EXTRA-VOL86 Winter Care_fnl_Page_1
Get ready for winter!


"*" indicates required fields


Additional Offers

Additional Offers
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.