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Symptoms of Colic

November 16, 2015

An expert explains how the symptoms of colic differ from other ailments in horses.


How do the symptoms of colic differ between impaction, gas, change in feed or the pain from gastric ulcers?


Our friends at the American Association of Equine Practitioners offer some answers:

The different symptoms usually revolve around the duration (how long the signs have been present) and the severity (how bad it is) of the pain.

Typically, colic is secondary to impactions and gastric ulcers and will cause mild to moderate pain such as the horse being off feed, looking at their flank, laying down (but not rolling), kicking at their belly and/or grinding their teeth. Symptoms usually have a gradual onset over many hours or even days. Gas (or sometimes called “spastic”) colic can occur with weather changes, feed changes or even without explanation.

While gas colic can be mild, it also can easily mimic a surgical condition. Think of how you feel the day after partaking in an all-you-can-eat authentic Mexican buffet. It doesn’t feel very good. Neither does colic caused by excessive gas accumulation. A horse can be violently painful to the point of rolling, sweating, being very anxious and even throwing himself on the ground or against the wall in an effort to get away from the pain. This can resemble cases where intestine has become strangulated and requires surgery. These are cases that are typically very painful right away.

The answer to this question is also a good place to educate the owners of stallions or geldings on what is commonly thought of as a urinary problem. When a male horse is seen camped out and “trying to pee” without producing a stream of urine, this is often a sign of colic. Urinary tract infections are not common in horses and, by stretching out, some horses find a bit of reprieve from abdominal pain.

— Dr. Jennifer Schleining, Ames, Iowa, member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners

Learn ways to reduce the risk of colic!

*AQHA and the provider of this information are not liable for the inherent risks of equine activities. We always recommend consulting a qualified veterinarian and/or an AQHA Professional Horseman.