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grey horse galloping through the fields


Colic is the leading cause of death for horses. In this post, we would like to give you a brief summary of this condition. First of all, colic is not an acute disease as one might think, but a syndrome, therefore a pathology with various symptoms.


The variation in symptoms depends on the stage of the colic that the the horse is going through. There are 5 stages of colic pain intensity in a horse.

At the very first stage, there may be no symptoms or any particular pain.

From the second stage, a slight pain appears and the horse starts developing unusual behavior. He will scratch the ground, look at the blanks. The horse may also have a lack of appetite or lie down longer than usual.

In the third stage, the pain becomes moderate and the horse restless. He kicks his stomach with his hind legs, stays lying down for a long time or even takes a “sitting dog” position. 

The fourth stage will cause severe pain. The horse will start rolling on his back violently, sweat a lot or even suddenly drop to the ground.

Finally, during the last stage, the horse is in a state of severe depression, and the risk of fatality is high.

eye of horse

It is therefore essential to contact a veterinarian as soon as any of these symptoms appear. Of course, it is up to you to judge between "the decline in activity, the blow of less well" and the symptoms that may suggest a colic.


As explained above, colic is not a disease, however this syndrome usually shows similar symptoms regardless of the source of the pain. Indeed, colic can be triggered by various factors but can also originate in different areas.

digestive system of the horse






CAECUM  (on the right side of the abdominal cavity)


Colic may occur in the stomach of the horse. This is called an impaction. Following the consumption of too coarse food, in particular straw (a dry food), and in too much quantity, the horse's stomach is found to be overloaded. Since the horse is unable to evacuate the overflow by vomiting, a plug forms in his stomach which then becomes particularly painful for him. This type of colic is then resolved, in general, by placement of a nasogastric tube carried out by the veterinarian.


The third problem area is the caecum. The caecum is a tank with a capacity of around 40L! This tank can then undergo an overload of solid particles: an impaction. Generally, this is resolved medically, but may require a fairly long diet, the time to be able to gradually evacuate its content.


The last area that can cause colic is the rectum. There may be a blockage of the rectal emptying, then the horse can no longer evacuate the dung. The most common cause is this type of obstruction is melanomas (tumors that affect pigment cells in the skin).


The second area that can be affected by colic is the small intestine. In this type of colic, surgery is often necessary. The plug, in this case, is moved to the terminal part of the small intestine, this is called ileum impaction. If this plug is too thick and completely prevents the transit from functioning, surgery will be necessary. Otherwise, medical treatment with laxatives and infusions will be administered to the horse. The horse's intestines can cause a lot of problems because they are quite free in the horse's body, which can cause a lot of movement very easily. As a result, part of the intestine can pass through one of the inguinal rings (through which the testicular cords pass) and get stuck. This case is called an inguinal hernia. The transit is then completely interrupted and emergency surgery is necessary. Another case may arise: the omentum foramen. The intestine then gets stuck in a small hole inside the abdomen. It can also wrap around a ball of fat, or tie itself up on itself. The consequences are the same as for the inguinal hernia and urgent surgery is required. Finally, the last scenario that could be related to the intestine is its paralysis, called paralytic ileus. This case is still rarer and usually results from another type of colic.


The fourth area that can cause problems and lead to colic is the colon. First, like the small intestine, the colon can experience impaction, in other words, a blockage from eating too much dry food. This type of colic is one of the most common. It is usually treated well with the administration of laxatives and pain relievers. Nevertheless, the colon can also undergo displacements, to the right or to the left, the displacement to the right being less frequent. These displacements are often secondary to an overload. In about 70% of cases, medical treatment will solve the problem. Otherwise, it will be necessary to perform surgery. Finally, the worst case of colic is volvulus of the large colon. In other words, the large colonist twists on itself. This type of colic is the most serious. The pain is very intense and only extremely rapid surgery can save the horse.

As you can see, there are many organs in the digestive tract of the horses that may be the origin of the colic. There are also multiple risk factors that can cause colic.

laying down foal in fields



There are factors that are related to the horse such as the tic which is indicative of boredom and inactivity. These two behaviors can increase the risk of colic just like pica which is also indicative of boredom since in this case the horse eats dirt and sand. In addition, a horse that has already had colic would be more likely to have it again.


Then, certain risk factors are not linked to the horse itself directly, but rather to its way of life. Inactivity is one of the factors contributing to colic. In this way, any time when the horse is inactive can lead to this syndrome. We can cite, for example, the moments when the horse is in the box. Conversely, intense activity generates stress in the horse which is also a risk factor. Thus, every moment when the horse may feel stress, such as when changing his place of life: from the transition from pasture to life in a box, he will be more likely to develop colic.

cardiogram copie.png


Certain parameters related to the maintenance of the horse can also increase the risk of colic in the horse. Indeed, the risk of developing this pathology would, for example, be lower when the owner of the horse takes care of her or his horse himself.


Finally, many risk factors are linked to diet and hydration. Nutrition is an important factor since the presence of concentrates in the ration and the consumption of straw would increase the risk of colic, while the consumption of grass and hay would decrease them. Beyond the type of food, there is the quality of the food. Coarse hay, that is of poor quality, mouldy or dusty and also processed cereals (such as flour) or even supersaturated meadows (ingestion of soil) could promote the appearance of colic. Then, the amount of food and the fractionation of food intake is a parameter to take into account. Indeed, a ration absorbed over a short period of time and/or in too large a quantity would promote colic. The mode of distribution, meanwhile, is also a critical element since round hay bales and/or low height distribution would be a trigger. Just as the change in lifestyle can stress the horse, its change in diet can also be stressful. Thus, any modification in the nature, the quantities, the rhythm and the mode of distribution of food would be risk of colic. Finally, water that is dirty, at too high/low temperature or ingested in large quantities rapidly can constitute a risk of colic.


In conclusion, inactivity, stress, nutrition and the environment of the horse can be sources of colic and we must be vigilant of these factors. The important thing is to stay in tune with your horse and make sure to detect the symptoms as early as possible in order to treat it as quickly as possible. If you would like to know more about the nutrition of your equine, we invite you to read our article: "What is a balanced diet for our equines?".

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