EQUUS 'Farm Calls' Podcast Episode 4: Equine Colic

Learn about the types and causes of equine colic, as well as management to promote gut health.

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In this episode of EQUUS “Farm Calls” we talked to Dr. Alison Gardner about equine colic. Gardner is a veterinarian as well as a specialist in equine surgery and emergency and critical care. She is an assistant professor in Clinical Equine Surgery, Department of Veterinary Clinical Science, at the Ohio State University.

The EQUUS “Farm Calls” podcast is brought to you in 2022 by Farnam—Your Partner in Horse Care.

In most equine industry surveys, colic and lameness are the two top issues worrying horse owners. Gardner admitted that colic is “scary” for horse owners. She defined colic as any abdominal pain that the horse exhibits. Because of the way the equine GI tract is constructed, it is the usual cause of abdominal pain. However, that pain could also be from the reproductive tract in any sex of horse, the urinary tract or the thoracic cavity.

She said that colic can range from mild gas colic to situations that require surgery. Clinical signs also can range from hardly noticeable in stoic horses to severe, where horses are a danger to themselves and the humans around them.

“I tell my students that horses only have a few ways to show us pain, and most of them look like colic,” said Gardner.

She noted that there are certain problems that are more likely to occur in certain types of horses. For example, Arabians and Miniature Horses are more prone to enteroliths, and having a diet high in alfalfa can be a predisposing factor to enterolith formation.

Broodmares in the first couple of weeks after foaling are more prone to large colon volvulus or displacement of the large colon. Gardner said if you suspect this in a post-foaling mare, you need to have your veterinarian out immediately or transport the mare to a referral clinic.

When asked about any correlation between weather change and colic, Gardner said there wasn’t solid science that weather or barometric pressure changes contributed to equine colic. However, she commented that those changes do contribute to management changes of horses. “Horses like their routine,” said Gardner.

One problem that weather can cause is if temperatures drop and water sources freeze. “We see a lot more impactions when water buckets freeze,” said Gardner. “Horses need clean, fresh water.”

She also recommended annual dental care and a deworming protocol that you discuss with your veterinarian.

One of the critical points that Gardner made is that horse owners should have a plan. Know what you are going to do in an emergency.

Gardener also suggested that owners learn how to take their horses’ heart rates. “It is helpful if the vet is coming out to tell him or her what the horse’s heart rate is and the level of discomfort,” she said.

In addition, Gardner noted that one type of colic occurs when horses live longer. “Some types of colic a horse owner has no control over,” she said. “A horse above 20 is more prone to strangulating lipomas that wrap around the intestines. Age is not a disease, and we can operate on these older horses successfully.”

Topics covered in this podcast included:

  • Why so many horses have issues with colic
  • Basic definitions
  • Breed, age
  • Different types of colic
  • Subtle signs of colic
  • Management changes that can lead to colic
  • What owners can do to help prevent colic

EQUUS “Farm Calls,” a production of the Equine Network LLC, is brought to you in 2022 by Farnam—Your Partner in Horse Care.