Equine Colic- on the rise this summer
Over the past several weeks of this very hot summer, the incidence of equine emergencies in our practice has significantly increased. Most commonly, we are seeing an increase in the number of equine colic cases.
What is equine colic? Colic is abdominal upset in a horse. Because a horse cannot physically vomit, gas and acid, as well as foodstuffs, can become off balance.
There are many different types of colic, with the most common being gas or spasmodic colic or impaction colic or a combination of both.
How do you know your horse is suffering from colic and what causes it?
If you notice your horse off feed, that is the first indication there is an issue. If they are hanging around the food but just not eating, you need to call your veterinarian! Other signs are rolling, thrashing, looking at one side or the other, pawing, thrashing the tail, or even just standing off away from other horses.
The first vital signs to check in your horse if you suspect colic are the gum color, heart rate, gut sounds and temperature.
The gums of a horse should be a pink color. IF they are pale, this means poor perfusion or blood flow. IF they are injected red, the horse could be toxic or even have a perforation of the bowel. IF you press on the gums, feel if they are moist , meaning the horse is hydrated. If they are dry or tacky, again that can mean the horse has an issue. IF the gums turn white where you press, count how many seconds before the color returns. Ideally, it should take 3 seconds for the color in the gums to return.
The heart rate of a horse should be below 40 ideally. You can measure the heart rate by feeling up under the armpit, or by feeling the pulse between the mandibles on the inside of the lower mandible. Any heartrate above 80 signifies surgical colic, and 40-60 at rest, signifies you have a potential problem.
The gut sounds of a horse are indicative of the motitility of the bowel. When a horse suffers from colic, often times they develop an “ileus” where the bowel actually stops or slows down significantly. By putting your head up to the side of the flank of the horse on both sides, you should be able to hear loud gas sounds every few seconds. If you hear nothing, you have an emergency.
Finally , a horse temperature below 100 but above 98 is ideal. Low temperatures indicate toxicity in the horse, where as very high temperatures can indicate inflammation or infection.
Causes of colic are vast. Most commonly, sudden changes in feed, not enough water access, lack of drinking in general, eating off the ground where they can ingest a lot of sand, and parasites all can play a factor.
How to prevent? Don’t change feed suddenly, ie go from grass hay to a lush green pasture. Transition your horse slowly. Always have water available. IF you are traveling, take some of the water from home so the horse recognizes the taste of that water. Do routine fecals on your horse for parasites, feed in feeders, and always have a salt and/or mineral block available.
Best of luck with your horse this summer!