Staying One Step Ahead of Colic

Colic - indication and early detection the HoofStep way.


Winter season is colic season.


With no fresh grass, muddy or snowy pasture and dropping temperature there risk factor for colic increases.


Careful monitoring can give early warning signs of this common, but deadly, illness.


Colic is a killer. Left untreated, it can lead to an extremely painful and lingering death in horses. When it doesn’t kill, it can cause agonizing abdominal pain lasting for hours or even days. And as the horse gets up and down, rolls, and, in some cases, thrashes about, he puts himself at risk of injury in his environment.

Fortunately, most cases of colic can benefit from treatment. Up to 90% can be managed medically; the others could require surgery. Early identification of colic leads to faster treatment, which means rapid pain management and, consequently, better welfare for your horse. What’s more, the earlier you intervene, the more likely your horse is to fully recover.

The basics

Colic affects 10% of horses worldwide every year. The most common causes include:


- Stress (change in management, separation, isolation …)

- Diets high in grain and low in forage

- Low water consumption

- Moldy feed or hay

- Sand ingestion

- Parasite infestation

- Abrupt changes in diet

- Sudden consumption of large quantities of feed or rich green grass

- Dental problems (especially if they making chewing difficult)

- Extended use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS)


Colic has many forms, with various disease processes and differing levels of severity. Each has its own kind of treatment program that your veterinarian will determine specifically for your horse. But it’s hard for owners to know the difference since the behavior signs are often similar. The main kinds of colic include:

  • Displacement: The free-floating small intestine is subject to twisting, which cuts off blood flow, and getting set in the wrong position. Displacement requires surgery to reposition the intestines and remove intestinal parts that have been damaged.
  • Impaction: Food or sand can get stuck in the various turns and corners of the digestive system, causing an impaction, especially if water supply is low. Impaction can often be managed medically.
  • Gas: Gas builds up from certain kinds of foods or moldy feed and causes pain and distention. Excess gas can usually be released through a veterinary tube in the horse’s nose.
  • Spasmodic: The classic tummy ache, a spasmodic colic results from muscle spasms in the intestines and generally responds well to veterinary medical treatment.
  • Enteritis: The intestines get inflamed, often in reaction to bacteria, a virus, or some other immune response. The horse could also have fever and/or diarrhea. Treatment plans vary according to the circumstances.
  • Stomach distention: Equine stomachs have limited capacity and can rupture if overfilled. Rupture is fatal.

In depth

When a horse colics, he’s often in significant levels of pain. But horses have different ways of expressing their pain, depending on the nature of the pain and also the personality of the horse. Some are just more expressive; others prefer to remain more stoic.


Here’s a list of some of the more classic, telltale signs of equine colic:


- Lying down, getting up and down

- Rolling or thrashing about

- Stretching out on the side

- Pawing

- Looking at sides

- Biting flanks, kicking abdomen

- Decreased appetite and water intake

- Sweating

- Rapid breathing

- Depression

- Not “acting like himself”


If you suspect colic, monitor your horse and record notes about his vital signs and behaviors, including times and frequencies, so you can describe them to your veterinarian. Keep monitoring his vital signs and behaviors after you call the vet so you can have an overview of the progression of his signs. This can help your veterinarian make more informed decisions about diagnosis and treatment plans.


A colicking horse can progress very rapidly into a severe state of disease. Regular evaluation of his behaviors and vital signs is critical. Remember, the earlier you treat, the better chance he has of recovery—and the sooner he feels relief.


The solution

There are few things worse for a horse owner than hanging around in a barn watching your horse’s every move for signs of colic. Anxiety and fatigue, often combined with cold temperatures in the middle of the night, add to owners’ already difficult challenges of dealing with their horse’s colic. That’s where an automated monitoring system with real-time, remote data communication can offer much-needed assistance.


HoofStep can measure your horse’s behavior related to many clinical signs of colic. Ideally, it’s best to run monitoring on your horse when he’s healthy first. This will allow you to compare his usual activity with any activity that might be unusual, for him, when he’s unwell.


HoofStep can detect the following behavior changes in your horse, all of which could indicate colic or help you monitor his progress during a colic episode:


- Getting up and down

- Rolling

- Changes in eating habits

- Changes in drinking habits

- Changes in head and neck position

- Looking at sides

- Biting flanks

- Pawing


Special note: HoofStep can also help prevent colic by alerting you if your horse isn’t drinking enough, especially in cold weather. Horses that drop their water intake (for example, because it’s too cold) are at increased risk of colic, as water is essential for good digestion—particularly in equids.


You can use HoofStep in several colic situations:

  • When he’s at greater risk for colic—right after moving to a new location, after trying new foods, after you think he might have ingested something toxic or too much feed, when he’s on box rest, etc.
  • When you suspect your horse might be colicking. Hooftstep can give precise details about movement that you can compare with his movement data when he’s healthy, to pick up even subtle differences that might reveal early signs of colic.
  • When you’re sure he’s colicking and you need to monitor his progress while waiting for the vet or after treatment.
  • When he’s recovered from colic and you want to ensure he doesn’t relapse into a new colic episode.
  • When he’s known for repeat colic episodes and is just that kind of horse you always have to keep your eye on.
  • When you have to be absent and want that peace of mind while your horse is in someone else’s care for a few days, for example.

Even with good home monitoring, horses in colic need urgent veterinary care. HoofStep cannot replace veterinary intervention. Be sure to contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice the first signs of colic, and use HoofStep’s information as a complement to this care.

One of the colic signs is that the horse rolls more than usual

Make sure the horse drinks enough water. Add psyllium or flaxseed if there is a risk for sand consumption. Check the amount and balance between grain and straw feed to ensure sufficient dry matter. Manage a deworming program and keep the horse active and exercised. We give the horse a voice!


HoofStep - Colic indication detection

READ MORE ABOUT COLIC


Browse through these resources to read more about preventing, preparing for, recognizing, and managing colic episodes:

myhorseuniversity - Equine-Colic-Causes-Symptoms-Treatment-and-Prevention

thehorse.com - whats-your-equine-colic-contingency-plan

thehorse.com - equine-colic-imitators

thehorse.com/ - equine-colic-early-intervention-saves-lives

www.acvs.org/large-animal/colic-in-horses

Always check your information sources to ensure they’re reliable and based on scientific evidence. The links we provide always contain information that’s been validated by scientific committees.