Understanding And Preventing Equine Colic

Colic in horses is a serious condition that can be life-threatening. Unfortunately, it’s also very common and often misdiagnosed. If you live with a horse, it’s important to understand what colic is and how to prevent it so you can keep your animal healthy…

Understanding Equine Colic – YouTube
– Equine colic is a dangerous condition that can lead to severe health complications in horses if untreated.
– Several factors such as improper feeding, lack of exercise, and dental issues can lead to colic.
– Maintaining a healthy diet, providing plenty of exercise, and scheduling regular veterinary check-ups are essential for preventing colic.
– Early recognition and appropriate treatment can significantly improve a horse’s chances of recovery from colic.
– Supplements can provide essential nutrients that may not be present in the horse’s diet, helping prevent colic.

Overfeeding Grain

Feeding grain is a common practice in horse care, but it can be one of the most dangerous things you do for your horse. 

Grain is high in sugar and starch, which can lead to gut problems like colic. It also contains fiber that can cause intestinal issues.

If you’re feeding your horse grain, make sure you know how much they need and how often they should be getting it so that they don’t get too much (this could lead to colic). If possible, try feeding them hay instead–it doesn’t contain as much sugar or starch as grains do!

Regular vet check-ups are incredibly important in maintaining your horse’s health and preventing issues such as colic. “It’s always better to prevent issues from happening in the first place,” says The Importances of Regular Vet Check-Ups for Horses.

Feeding After Strenuous Exercise

After strenuous exercise, it’s important to feed your horse within 2 hours. The amount of food you should give depends on the size and workload of your horse, but generally speaking it’s best not to give too much grain or hay and not too much grass either (but don’t be afraid to let them graze).

Eating Moldy Forage

You may be wondering how to prevent moldy hay. The best way is to keep your hay free from moisture, which can lead to mold growth. 

If you have a barn with leaks or poor ventilation, this can be difficult. If you suspect that your hay has been exposed to moisture, it should be discarded immediately and replaced with fresh feed that hasn’t been exposed directly or indirectly (through contact with the ground) by excessive rain or snowfall during storage periods in autumn months before bringing it indoors for winter storage purposes

Prevention MethodDescription
Proper StorageKeep hay in a dry, well-ventilated area, away from rain, moisture, and direct sunlight.
Regular InspectionInspect hay frequently for potential mold growth or off-odor, and discard any affected bales.
Proper Baling and HandlingEnsure hay is properly baled and stored at proper moisture levels to prevent mold growth and preserve hay quality.
Use of Mold InhibitorsSome hay preservatives such as propionic acid or sodium benzoate can be used to prevent mold growth in hay.
Supplement FeedIn cases where moldy forage is unavoidable, supplementing with alternative feeds such as beet pulp or hay cubes can help prevent digestive upset in horses.

Note: While preventing moldy hay is important in maintaining horse health, it is essential to contact your veterinarian promptly if you suspect your horse may have consumed moldy forage. Mold toxicity can be a severe condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Abrupt Changes In The Feed

Feed changes should be gradual. If you’re going to feed a different type of grain, do it gradually over the course of several weeks. 

The same goes for hay–if you’re going to switch from grass hay to alfalfa or timothy, do so slowly over the course of several days (or weeks).

Don’t use supplements without talking with your veterinarian first! The most common cause of colic is too much mineral salt (salt) in the horse’s diet, which can lead to electrolyte imbalances that affect muscle function and cause pain. 

You may want to add plain water instead of electrolyte replacement drinks if your horse has been exercising intensely or sweating heavily during hot weather; these drinks contain minerals such as sodium chloride (table salt) that should not be given unless recommended by your vet specifically because they could make things worse!

Proper hoof care is essential to a healthy diet, and a healthy diet is key to preventing colic. Learn more about keeping your horse’s feet in top shape with our comprehensive guide to Hoof Care 101.

Impaction Colic

Impaction colic, or intestinal impactions, are a common cause of colic in horses. Impaction occurs when there is an obstruction in the horse’s intestines that prevents normal passage of feed and/or feces. 

This can be caused by a foreign object (such as a piece of wood) or by feed that is too bulky for the horse to digest properly.

Horses with impaction colic usually have a slight fever and may appear more lethargic than usual. The signs of colic caused by an intestinal obstruction include:

  • Abdominal pain–the horse will lie down and roll from side to side as if trying to relieve abdominal pain
  • Unproductive attempts at defecation–the horse strains without producing stool
  • Refusal to eat

Grass Founder

Grass founder, or ergotism, is the most common cause of colic in horses. It’s caused by a toxic plant called ergot that grows on rye grasses and can be found in pasture grasses like timothy and fescue. 

Horses that graze on these types of pasture are at risk for developing grass founder if they consume enough ergot-contaminated plants over time.

When horses eat hay containing large amounts of infected rye grass or other poisonous plants such as wild cherry tree leaves, they may experience symptoms like diarrhea and sweating before going into colic episodes where their stomachs become tight with gas pain followed by severe abdominal cramping (the horse will roll over onto his side). 

These signs often occur within 12 hours after consuming contaminated food sources; however some cases may take up to 48 hours before showing any signs at all!

Maintaining a healthy weight is critical to your horse’s overall health and can help reduce the risk of complications such as colic. Discover the best feeds for keeping your horse at a healthy weight with our guide to The Best Feeds for Keeping Your Horse at a Healthy Weight.

Spasmodic Colic

The causes of spasmodic colic are not completely understood, but it’s thought to be caused by problems in the digestive system. 

The symptoms include abdominal pain and discomfort that come and go, accompanied by diarrhea or constipation. 

Treatment includes anti-inflammatory medication like phenylbutazone (Bute) or flunixin meglumine (Banamine), along with IV fluids if your horse is dehydrated.

Intussusception (Telescoping Of The Bowel)

Another common cause of colic is intussusception. Intussusception is the telescoping of one part of the intestine into another, similar to how a telescope folds up into itself. 

This happens when part of the large intestine (the cecum) becomes trapped within another section and then pinches off blood supply to that area. 

Intussusception can be very painful for your horse and may cause them to go down or roll over as they struggle with their discomfort.

If you suspect that your horse has this condition, call your veterinarian immediately so they can diagnose it correctly before treating them with pain medication or sedatives that could make things worse if they have an obstruction in their digestive tract instead!

ParasitesParasitic infestations such as strongyles and tapeworms can lead to inflammation and the onset of intussusception.
Gastrointestinal MassesMasses such as tumors and polyps can create a blockage in the intestines and lead to intussusception.
Foreign ObjectsIngesting foreign objects such as rocks or plastic can obstruct the bowel, increasing the risk of intussusception.
Previous Abdominal SurgeryScarring from previous abdominal surgeries can cause the bowel to become twisted and lead to intussusception.
NeoplasiaNeoplastic growths or tumors that occur within or span across the intestinal lumen in the gut can cause the onset of intussusception.

Note: While the causes of intussusception are varied, it is essential to contact your veterinarian promptly in case of suspected intussusception. Early detection can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment and recovery of the horse.

Torsion Or Twist Of The Colon

A twist of the colon (or “colic”) is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. A horse’s colon can become twisted, causing severe abdominal pain as it twists further and further around itself. 

This twisting occurs because one end of your horse’s large intestine has come out through its anus (back end), which creates an obstruction for stool to pass through that section of the intestines. 

When this happens, horses often develop diarrhea due to loss of fluid from their body; they may also show signs of colic such as restlessness and sweating if left untreated.

In order to prevent or treat this condition:

Make sure that you keep your horse on clean pasture with good quality hay; avoid overfeeding him so as not too much food at once when he eats – this increases his risk for developing a twist in his intestinal tract!

Proper riding techniques can help prevent accidents and injuries in both rider and horse. Check out our guide to The Importance of Proper Riding Techniques for Safety for tips on how to stay safe while riding.

Enteritis (Inflammation Of The Small Intestine)

Enteritis is an inflammation of the small intestine. It can be caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infection; inflammation due to stress; or simply eating something that doesn’t agree with your horse’s digestive system.

The symptoms of enteritis include diarrhea (which may be bloody), fever and abdominal pain–all signs that your horse is dehydrated from losing fluids through vomiting or diarrhea. 

Your vet will need to diagnose this condition before starting treatment; if left untreated for too long it can lead to colic as well as other complications such as laminitis (founder).

Bacterial InfectionBacteria such as Salmonella, Clostridium, and Escherichia coli can cause inflammation of the small intestine in horses.
Viral InfectionSome viruses such as rotavirus, equine herpes virus, and coronavirus can lead to enteritis in horses.
Fungal InfectionFungi such as Rhizoctonia and Aspergillus can also cause enteritis in horses.
Inflammation due to stressStress can cause inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to enteritis.
Dietary ChangesAbrupt changes in diet or feeding low-quality forage can lead to digestive upset and subsequent enteritis in horses.
MedicationsSome medications, such as NSAIDs and antibiotics, can cause enteritis as a side effect.

Note: This table highlights the most common causes of enteritis in horses but is not an exhaustive list. If you suspect your horse may have enteritis, contact your veterinarian for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Diarrhea/Poor Gut Motility (Typhlitis)

Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms of colic. It can be caused by anything that irritates or damages the lining of your horse’s intestines, including:

  • A change in diet or feed type that doesn’t agree with him
  • Bacterial infection (typhlitis), which can be transmitted through contaminated water sources or poor hygiene practices when handling manure piles or bedding materials from infected horses

Supplements can provide essential nutrients that may not be present in your horse’s diet, helping to prevent health issues such as colic. Learn about the top 15 supplements every horse owner should know about with our guide to The Top 15 Supplements Every Horse Owner Should Know About.


If you’re looking to learn more about how to prevent and treat colic in horses, I highly recommend checking out our free guide on the subject. 

It covers everything from what causes colic, to how you can tell if your horse is having a problem with his digestion and get him some help fast before things get worse!

Further Reading

For more information on equine colic and its prevention, please refer to the following resources:

Colic Updates and Prevention: This article from the American Association of Equine Practitioners provides an in-depth look at colic, including its various forms, its symptoms, and how to prevent it.

Colic: Your Horse: The University of Minnesota Extension offers a comprehensive guide to colic, including information on its different types, how to recognize the symptoms, and best practices for managing and preventing it.

Horse Colic: Prevention and Management: The Blue Cross provides a helpful resource on horse colic prevention and management. This guide contains information on how to recognize the signs of colic, tips on management, and recommendations for prevention.


What Causes Colic in Horses?

Colic in horses can be caused by several factors, including improper feeding, lack of exercise, and exposure to certain toxins and medications. Other factors such as stress, changes in diet, parasites, and dental issues can also lead to colic.

What Are the Symptoms of Colic in Horses?

Horses with colic may show a variety of symptoms, including pawing at the ground, rolling, sweating, loss of appetite, lethargy, and stretching. In severe cases, horses may also display signs of depression, extreme pain, and unresponsiveness.

How Can Colic in Horses Be Prevented?

To prevent colic in horses, it is essential to maintain a healthy diet, provide plenty of exercise, and ensure regular dental and veterinary check-ups. Furthermore, horse owners should also take steps to reduce their horses’ stress levels, control parasites, and avoid sudden changes in diet.

How Is Colic in Horses Treated?

The treatment for colic in horses depends on the severity and cause of the condition. In some cases, simple changes in diet and management may be sufficient. In more severe cases, surgery may be required.

Can Colic in Horses Be Fatal?

Yes, colic can be life-threatening in horses, particularly if left untreated. However, early recognition, intervention, and appropriate treatment can significantly improve a horse’s chances of recovery.