Barn Management: Possible Causes of Colic

I thought it would be a good time to think about health issues, specifically colic. As a horse owner or horse lover you will hear a lot about it but what is it, how to prevent it, what causes it and what to do in the middle of an attack.

Generally, colic is an impaction in the colon, though it could be a twisted intestine or opening in the intestine. An impaction has many causes and here are a few: horse eating off sandy ground (sand colic), eating more feed then the horse is physically capable of safely digesting (then you have founder complications also), sudden changes in feed, feed that is moldy or damaged, the horse not drinking (i.e. no water in paddock or extreme heat) and is dehydrated, stress (i.e. horse show, long road trips, separation anxiety, overwork), and parasites.

Here are some of my personal observations about colic causes:

Nervous horses. Some horses are more delicate then others and will be more susceptible due to their personality. This is the horse that may appear flighty, over alert to surroundings, has extreme separation anxiety and is “clingy”. This was the colic I contribute to The Farm BO’s Arabian gelding who colicked over Thanksgiving. This horse was extremely sensitive and nervous; Arab people think it’s “purty” but this horse needed a stable and gentle owner who would spend time with him… oh well not going to happen. Hope he’s not dead already.

Stressful environments. Horses pick up on bad news — if the stable has an atmosphere that is full of gossip and egos, this comes out with loud angry voices, quick and unfair physical punishments of the horses, and erratic schedules of feeding, turnout and care. Trust me I have seen more colics due to this problem then any other.

Sensitive horses. As opposed to the nervous horse, this horse internalizes stress. He may be viewed as strong and who can handle everything — then one day you walk into the stable and he is dead from a twisted intestine. This is the type of colic that IMO one of The Farm horses had who was a really sweet, well trained, experienced gentle giant. All his stress went inside making him terribly sensitive to feed changes – just increasing his feed by 1/4 a pound could cause a colic!

Lack of Proper Management. This could be as simple as not having a turnout routine. Horses that don’t have routines suffer from horrible stress and stress can lead to colic. It’s also the problems of not having clean turnout and stalls (horse is eating too much of his own waste or sand), No fresh water to drink which encourages a horse to become dehydrated, no worming program, etc….

Dehydration. Whether from overwork (exhausted horses don’t drink), extreme heat, or just some other change in weather or the environment, when a horse becomes dehydrated you have some serious issues. I’ve become severly dehydrated with sunstroke working in our garden one summer and it was a horrible experience let me tell you. From that experience I know that when we become dehydrated our mind stops thinking – it plays tricks on you and it deludes you into not drinking even more! So it’s important that you try to PREVENT dehydration rather then trying to rectify it after it happens.

Lack of Grazing. The horses’ gut is designed to operate with a constant flow of low energy food, but humans in all their stupid wisdom instead feed them two large energy meals a day and gives them little grazing opportunities. The more stabled your horse is – the more reliance put on grain vs. hay – the less chance your horse has to nibble all day, dramatically increases the horses’ chance of colic. You won’t see that listed in any vet books, but I feel this is probably way up there as the no. 1 reason for colic episodes in show stables, where hay is restricted due to the high cost (they can’t make money if they give your the horse the amount of hay he really needs).

Change of Weather. Here we come to the most mysterious and what I think caused Pandora’s colic.  In college the Horse Trainer I worked for called a certain type of weather “colic weather.” So the other day was typical and I’ll go into a timeline about it…

At noon the weather was very warm and balmy with a gentle south wind. If you owned a swimming pool, you would have been tempted to go take a dip. Pandora was laying down and I was told that she rolled. This might have been taken just as a horse enjoying a summer day.

By about 5 p.m. the weather had dropped about 30 degrees. We were gettting rain from the south. Pandora had progressed to agressively rolling while being lead. By this time I had reached the barn and we did the treatment I outlined in the blog entry.

By 8 p.m. she had recovered okay enough to start eating hay and was alert. By the time I drove home, the rain had glazed the streets with ice.

By 10 p.m. we got hit with thunder, lightening, sideways blowing rain that was hitting the windows so hard everyone thought it was hail. The temps had dropped now to the 20s.

I truly think Pandora’s colic was weather related. I think she also stopped drinking (the water had been moved the week prior). I also have doubts about the family party that was held at the farm and if perhaps Pandora got a few too many cookies the day before from the visiting kids (being a pony I severely restrict her diet). Whatever the cause she seems to be doing okay now. I am going to keep a close eye on her though.

This entry was posted in barn management, Essays, Healthcare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Barn Management: Possible Causes of Colic

  1. Pingback: Colic - how serious is it? « Horse Ideology

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  3. Susan Brown says:

    I live in Cincinnati. It’s been a terribly hot summer, with early July temps of 100-104, then stayed in the mid to high 90s. I rode my horse around 12 noon on a Friday, just for maybe 30 minutes, could have been less. She was turned back out into her little paddock, was fed at the usual time, then turned out into the bigger field with 2 other mares. She started to colic, and we lost her in the early morning on Saturday. Do you think this extreme heat caused her to colic? She was fine to ride, but kept stepping toward me, so I couldn’t get on. I did some groundwork with her, then she finally let me on her. I just want to know why this happened?

    • horseideology says:

      Dear Susan – It’s a tragedy to lose a horse and especially one to such an unpredictable disease such as colic. I’m very sorry for your loss…

      Over the years, I’ve lost many beloved companions, and it’s always hard. We want to know why so we can have answers or comfort. If you rode your horse for such a short period of time, unless it was extremely vigorous riding i.e. racing, jumping etc… I would not think that could have contributed.

      The horses’ medical history, age, previous colic surgeries (if any), previous colic episodes, diet, etc… all play a part. There’s many reasons why this could have happened and I’m not a vet. The only realy way to know would have been to authorize an autopsy.

      The issue is with weather – whether extreme heat or extreme cold, horses will drink less. They can become dehydrated. This also causes them to eat less. It feeds on itself so the less a horse drinks, the less they will drink etc.. etc…

      It’s also not unusual for a horse to be suffering a mild colic for some time and no one notices. The horse just seems off. It’s not until it has progressed to something extreme that it becomes a medical emergency.

      I really feel for your loss and hope you can get some comfort or answers from your vet. ((Hugs))

  4. Pingback: Barn Management: Colic – what to do « Horse Ideology

  5. Pingback: Colic – what to do | horseideology

  6. Pingback: Colic – how serious is it? | horseideology

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