Colic is a serious condition in horses occurring mainly in stabled horses with scarce grazing. It is the most common cause of death in horses. Colic is not a single disease; it is used to describe any disease of the abdominal organs accompanied by severe pain.

Colic can be caused by any one of a number of conditions. Sometimes one condition will lead to another, e.g. obstruction causing bloat.

•    Over-eating, particularly of concentrate feed.
•    Fermentation of feed in the stomach, for whatever reason, with the resulting production of excess gas.
•    Inflammation of the digestive tract, especially the small intestine. This is usually accompanied by purging. This may be caused by internal parasites. (See Endoparasites of horses)
•    Obstruction in the digestive tract, usually the large intestine and often caused by sand eaten while grazing.
•    Twist in the intestine.
•    Bloat of the intestine (usually after an obstruction)
•    Disease of liver, kidneys or urethras.
•    Drinking extremely cold water, especially after working hard.
•    Horses that eat their bedding are often affected.


•    Restlessness
•    Head back, looking at hind-quarters
•    Kicking at the belly
•    Stamping of the fore-legs
•    Teeth grinding
•    Pulse rate rises
•    Shivering
•    Lying down and rolling
•    Lying on the back with the legs in the air
•    Attempting to urinate unsuccessfully, with a wide-legged stance.
•    When the colic becomes severe – the horse will go down, throw its head around and may injure itself without appearing to feel the pain of the injury. It will break into a cold sweat and the mucous membranes of the eye and mouth will turn a dirty dark purple. At this stage the horse is very close to death. The colour of the mucous membranes is a good indicator of the severity of the condition. If they are still a clean-looking dark pink or red colour, it is not too severe. Once they turn dark red or purple, the situation is very serious. If the colic is caused by over-eating or an obstruction the symptoms are usually not so severe. The animal is uncomfortable and listless, lying down and getting up frequently. If the colic is caused by bloat the colic is severe. The animal is restless, walking, rolling and showing signs of extreme pain.


Colic is a very serious, potentially fatal condition with severe pain and really needs the expertise of a veterinarian to deal with it. If the vet is not available or while waiting, there are some things the horse owner can do.
•     Remove any feed from your horse’s stall
•    If your horse is lying down and quiet it’s OK to leave them there
•    If they are repeatedly getting up and down, quietly walk your horse around until your veterinarian gets there
•    The vet will probably use an injectable narcotic to ease the severe pain.
•    Purgatives such as liquid paraffin or raw linseed oil to encourage purging may be given. If the horse is bloated – turpentine or liquid phenol may be added. This is best given by stomach tube.
•    The vet may give a purgative injection, but not in cases where the colic is caused by over-eating or inflammation of intestines.
•    If the horse is constipated, manual removal of faeces and enema will relieve constipation.
•    If colic is caused by twisting of intestines, or if the intestine has burst from bloat, there is no remedy.

Ref:    Handbook of Stock Diseases; Monnig and Veldman