Mild Colic 101

We had a 40 degree temp swing in less than 24 hours which sent my mare into a minor gas colic (I think) that resolved quickly with just hand walking but scared me enough to realize I was not prepared. My gelding just has an iron gut and has never even threatened a colic. My only other experience was when my pony coliced as a kid, and that was a serious colic that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else and that warranted vet ASAP.

Anyways, she was stretching, kicking at her belly, and when I saw her roll I went and got her and walked her a bit. When she wouldn’t graze on the good grass or take a treat I basically panicked. Called my neighbor to get some banamine in her but by the time they got there it had basically resolved, and she wanted to graze, etc. I feel like I overreacted but I had no idea what to expect.

Long stort short, how do you handle the first colic signs? When to call the vet, when to wait, when/not to give banamine.

My vet is an hour away, as is the vet hospital (in the other direction of course) so I call immediately to let them know something is up and get their expert advice on how to proceed. I know my horse pretty well and he does occasionally have a gas colic, for example if I don’t get the oak trees fenced off early enough and he eats too many acorns.

He is pretty dramatic so if he’s moaning and flinging himself on the ground I usually just have the vet come. I’ll write the $250 check for some banamine and tubing some oil and water into him. I do not give meds without talking to the vet first.

tl;dr: talk to the vet. answering your questions when you are worried is literally their job.

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Have your own banamine on hand to give orally. Your vet should trust you with it. Like you did though, handwalk for a bit, and if they still feel yucky, give some banamine orally. I just keep an eye on them. Usually within 30-45 minutes, they act like normal again.

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Well it really depends on your situation. If your vet is nearby, and you are very dependent on vet care (not comfortable doing basic procedures yourself), most people call the vet right away. If your horse is insured, things may be different than if it is not insured. If you have paid a LOT of money for your horse, and are prepared to spend a LOT of money if things get serious, your decisions may be different than if this is not the case. If you are “for sure” sending your horse for surgery to attempt to save it’s life if the colic becomes severe, this also may effect your decision as to how much you want to do at home before calling in your vet.

But I think that most horse owners who have enough skills to recognize a colic tend to keep banamine on hand, with the nod from their vet, who sold it to them for this purpose. Oral tube, or, if you can predictably hit the jugular vein, injectable. Your vet will have input on this, if they are comfortable in selling you this drug. If you are working closely with your vet, the most correct situation would be to call your vet when you notice your horse having gut pain with colic, to alert your vet to this situation. Your vet will then advise you to try the banamine they have left with you, for this purpose. If this resolves the problem, everyone is happy. If it does not resolve the problem, your vet is already aware of the situation, and can easily and quickly attend.

My own situation is different, as I have no vet readily available in my semi remote location.

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I think this might depend on the availability and speed of emergency vet care.

My vet doesn’t have a problem with me having a bit of banamine on hand, but it’s really only for if he and his associates can’t make it to my farm quickly. They do offer 24/7 emergency services and their clinic is 10 minutes from my new place.

My policy is always call the vet. They tell me what to do. I’m a competent horsewoman but I’m not a vet.

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If things seem minor, I call the vet and basically do what she says. She has sold me a tube of oral banamine to have on hand since she’s an hour away.

Thankfully, I’ve only had one minor gas colic and it resolved on its own with me monitoring.

My basic rules:
Always call vet first so she’s aware and can advise.
Minor lasting a half hour or so, we’re good to go and pay attention over the next few days
Minor lasting over a half hour, I’ll administer banamine and call vet back
Major pain is call to vet and banamine immediately. Or even load up in the trailer and start hauling depending on how bad he looks and where she is.

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If I’m not sure what’s going on or I only suspect colic I’ll just observe what my horse is doing in the pasture. Sometimes I think if you mess with them too much it just stresses them out more.

If I get to the point where I’m certain it’s definitely a colic, I’ll call the vet just so she’s in the loop if things go down hill, and that’s when I’d give bannamine. After I give bannamine, I kind of just let the horse relax and pull feed while I’m waiting for it to kick in. Maybe we’ll walk a little just so they don’t try to roll.

If I’ve given bannamine and the horse is still painful after an hour, I get the vet to come out.

Thank you, this was exactly what I was looking for. Just a reasonable amount of time it was okay to observe/walk in a mild situation. She was back to spooking and mugging me for food again in probably 30-45 minutes. :roll_eyes: horses

The tricky thing with colic is that you don’t always know what it is. Colic can include: minor gas that passes, major gas that distorts the small intestine, a twisted intestine, dead intestine from worms or twisting, impaction in the intestine, cecum or colon, strangulatung lymphoma, out of control e coli or salmonella, and more.

My mare had 4 colon impaction colics that I observed one winter/spring when she was getting alfalfa and not drinking enough. I had her tubed once but the other 3 times I gave her Banamine and liquid and slept at the barn while she slept it off. My own vet never attended, I notified him right away each time. Basically really bad constipation. As long as it resolved not that dangerous. Stopped feeding alfalfa and got more water into her, has been fine since.

Another horse in our barn gets transient mild gas colics sometimes at night.

On the other hand, I know two horses that were euthanized because their colics were out of control bacterial infections that hit crisis point fast. And another that had surgery for old worm damaged intestine.

So the problem with colic is it’s a symptom, a tummy ache, not a single disease. And you don’t know what it is at the start, especially the first time a given horse colics.

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We keep injectable Banamine on hand - it can be used IV or Orally. My horse is VERY telling, so at the first sight of him being uncomfortable, I give 10cc orally and set the timer. I used to be more confident with IV injections but now I just give orally and wait a little longer. Orally given, he snaps out of his funks in about 30-45 minutes. There was one incident when it took longer, we were in the hours + of being mildly uncomfortable off/on. If we can’t get out of the funk in about 30 minutes, we make the call to the vet and advise. I only force walking if he’s trying to throw himself to the ground. If he’s willing to stand quietly, I let him stand. I don’t force walking if he’s willing to stand quietly. So far, we have not actually had to get him to the vet, or vet to him.

In response to colic being a symptom of something, I agree. We had been dealing with these frequent, minor episodes and had reported all of them to our vet’s office with not much feedback. It wasn’t until I loaded him into the trailer to go into the emergency clinic that the vet there mentioned maybe scoping him for Ulcers. While we didn’t go to the clinic that night, a week later I had him scoped and we were treating for Ulcers. Happy to report we have gone months without a recurrent episode (so grateful!) . That said, if you can identify WHY they may be having their episodes(if minor and frequent) it’s a lot less stressful/scary. We used to have a mare that would get wonky at the start of her cycle. Go off feed, do the whole colic ball game. It took awhile for us to realize the correlation.

We’ve also had two that dropped from an assumed strangulating lipoma. They were totally fine, and then they were not, and no amount of drugs made any difference - it was VERY clear it was not mild and they would not be coming out of it.

I had a gelding who had chronic impaction colics. His first actually presented as a gas colic. It was my first as a horse owner (I had experienced many colics as barn staff). I called the vet, the on call came out, found gas, tubed, gave banamine (left me with some as mine was expired), and all was well. The next morning? My horse went down hill. What presented as gas might not have been. Call to vet. Came out, tubed, fluids, and told me to watch. Things didn’t improve and it turned out to be a serious impaction. That night my horse was at New Bolton for 3 days of around the clock fluids.

He was fine in the end, but our journey of impaction colics began. That was the first of 6-10? Most were dealt with without vet care. And we got very good spotting the signs and staying ahead. He was a food guy so if he didn’t attack his food with gusto, we’d check temperature, hit him with banamine, then add EXTRA water to his soup (soaked cubes with some grain and double dose of electrolytes) and toss him out to graze for an hour. Most 3/4 of the time he’d resolve it himself. (We never figured out why and didn’t do a necropsy)

We lost him in November 2019 to an impaction that we just couldn’t get ahead of. Presented as normal. Had the vet out when it just didn’t seem to be resolving. They felt he’d been fine. Had the vet out again. Still thought we’d get it. He just wasn’t pulling through so we brought him to the clinic and he was there for not even an hour when we said goodbye. He had ruptured. The only time he’d have even been a surgical candidate was when the vet was out the first time and that was before he would have actually been a candidate. Having said that, I adored this horse, but I wasn’t going to put him through surgery anyway.

So, my point of this is not to scare you. But, decided your colic plans way ahead of time. If faced with the decision, will you do surgery? In the heat of the moment it is SO much easier to say yes to everything.

After the first colic, my vet gave me a checklist of things I can do prior to calling. I can give banamine. But, if I give banamine, take temperature first. You can’t get an accurate reading after you’ve given banamine. If I have high fever? CALL immediately. Something else might be going on. Check vitals. Check gums. Laying down is OK, rolling isn’t (check with your vet).

All of these are discussions to have before the next colic. Hopefully you’ll never need to use this info. But it’s good to have. Decisions may depend on the horse too.

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I have only had a few colics in my years of owning horses. I have always called the vet because it isn’t something I want to mess around with. On one occasion my mare was better by the time he arrived and he still gave her the once over and I could rest easy that night.

Things can just go sour so fast.

The best thing you can do is arm yourself with knowledge.

Horses all react differently to colic-like situations. Some are melodramatic and you would think they are dying when they only have a gas bubble. Others are stoic and will barely let you know how bad it is.

No horse owner should be without banamine, a thermometer, and a stethoscope.

At the first signs of colic, take the horse’s vitals: what is the temp/heart rate/respiration? Elevated heart rate will tell you a lot about a horse’s level of pain (which means you also need to know what is normal for them; <40bpm is the normal range).

Practice listening to the horse’s 4 quadrants of their gut: go back by their flank and listen high near the point of the hip and down low closer to their belly. You should hear rumbles or noise about every 20-30 seconds, or anywhere from 1-3 per minute. If you hear less than that, the gut isn’t moving as it should. It is especially concerning if you hear no noises in any of the quadrants. Also, if it sounds like rushing water, diarrhea is likely on the way. If it sounds like “ping ping ping,” you have excess gas.

Look at the gums: this is one of my biggest indicators of how quickly I will deem the situation an emergency. They should be pale pink, feel moist, and when pressed upon, the pale mark from where you pressed should regain its pale pink color within 2 seconds (capillary refill). If they feel tacky or you have slow refill, there’s a good chance you are dealing with dehydration, which may mean impaction. Mild impactions are often “easy” to resolve on the farm without a vet by encouraging drinking, walking the horse, or putting them in a situation that encourages passing manure (like the trailer). Serious impactions will need a vet and possibly surgery, so you can’t just write them off. You need to be diligent.

If the gums are a color other than pale pink, that is usually a “call the vet now” situation. Pale gums
can mean bleeding or anemia, red gums can indicate shock or endotoxemia, purplish gums indicate cyanosis and you have a serious emergency on your hands.

If the horse’s level of discomfort doesn’t seem too high and nothing on examination indicates an immediate emergency, I will often give banamine and encourage passing manure, hydration, and movement while observing the horse. Often these things are temporary discomfort and resolve.

If I have any doubt at all, I will call the vet for their guidance. Sometimes they may tell me to do the exact same thing: give banamine and observe. Sometimes they may choose to come right out based on the info I provide them.

Just last week I had a colic-like emergency (first one in quite some time) that turned out not to be a colic at all, but a fractured spleen. The horse was hemorrhaging internally. Me being prepared to act in a colic saved her life.

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I have a couple options for vets close by. And if they aren’t available, I can always hook up and haul to the hospital. The last colic my horse had, he was very dehydrated. I typically do NOT give banamine before the vet arrives / without vet advice, especially in a case like that where he was already dehydrated. Plus, in this specific instance, he was already on banamine for another thing and had a dose earlier in the day. Having had a horse who had a kidney issue following a dose of banamine on a hot day where he was dehydrated, I don’t give NSAIDs lightly so much anymore. A lot of the time, I’d want a sedative or anti-spasmodic anyway, which I don’t keep on hand. I figure since the vets are close, calling them for some meds and fluids (IV or NG) and an exam is worth the cost most of the time. Considering that an earlier colic that seemed mild at first required a multi-day hospital visit and I’ve lost 2 horses to colic, I don’t tend to wait it out.

When my horse came home from the hospital, he did get crampy after one of his small hay meals the first day, and hand walking while I waited for a callback from my vet did seem to resolve it. At that time, we agreed to slow down the refeeding process more, and he did say if it happened again that it would be ok to try banamine first in that case, and I was monitoring his hydration very closely.

If you live in a more remote area (as far as vet care), you should talk with your vet on some plans and keeping some meds on hand. And decide when you just hook up the trailer as a first step.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this out and really explain it. So many times people say vitals and gut sounds, but if you don’t know what to look for it can be difficult to really interpret what you are dealing with.

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This in spades. You can give your vet so much more information if you call and also you can gauge the severity first thing.

My horse will start doing the flehman posture when she gets a belly ache. Only once have I not been able to handle it myself (with vet on speed dial) and that was because of high temps (100+) and some dehydration. She had a small impaction and needed the fluids. The vets are very appreciative when you can give them concrete information (vitals).

Susan

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Thats so odd! My mare was doing that too! I had never seen her do it before and we were in the arena away from other horses and anything “smelly”. I wonder why?

I have seen this too in a few horses, mostly mares now that I think about it—at least associated with colic. I think it’s just a stress signal. Two instances of it wound up with colic requiring hospital visit (one surgical).

The best thing is just to know your horse. Is your usually sleepy horse acting a bit agitated? Pawing? Or does your horse seem extra dull? Is he butt pressing or does he have an itch? Resting or uncomfortable? Often the first thing I do is reach for a cookie if something’s NQR. Not interested? How about grass (if there is any?) No? Time to check vitals, look for any recent manure, call vet.

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The USPC website has a horse card where you fill out your horse’s at-rest vitals. I would download it, print it out, and take your horse’s vitals over the course of 2-3 days, AM and PM, to get a good gauge for what is normal. Make a binder for your horse and put that card in there. I keep my binder close to my first aid kit - it has everything that I need to know.

If I have a horse presenting with a colic the first thing I do is pull them from hay sources and observe them. Take their temp, their vitals, and watch them. If their vitals are within normal limits, I watch: are they interested in a mint? What about soupy grain? If the answer is no, it’s a vet call immediately. I don’t administer banamine until I call the vet.

If they are not thrashing or violently rolling. I’ll chuck them in the trailer and do a lap up and down the driveway. If they don’t pass manure then and there, that’s a very bad sign and they are on their way to the hospital.

If they did pass manure, how does it look and – yes, how does it feel? If it is very hard and dry looking, I may have the vet out to get some mineral oil and fluids in them.

With gas colics, movement is usually beneficial… But for any other type of colic, sometimes movement makes entrapment or pain worse.

I always call my vet at the first sign of colic discomfort - he may not come out, depending on what I describe, but he is always the first to know. I would rather pay to have the vet out for “no reason” versus not act quick enough, and have to face the risk of losing my horse.

After colic care varies wildly depending on the horse, type of colic, and management. I separate the horse so I can establish if they pass manure in the next several hours. All grain gets handily soaked, and whether or not they get hay depends on what my vet says and what the colic was.

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I have taught my mare to “smile” for treats. So her doing the Flehman thing means she’s actually feeling better! Confuses the vet, yes.

The first time maresy got her impaction colic I took her on a long walk and she tried to lie down on the trail. After that she refused to leave the stall. For her what works is Banamine, some molasses water, and a long nap.