Risks, Signs & Symptoms Of Common Types Of Horse Colic: Health Knowledge For Equestrians 2021

It is our intention to provide reliable, unbiased colic information gathered from a variety of reputable scientific, professional and educational sources. 

The information presented on this site is not a substitute for immediate veterinary care. If you suspect colic or any other condition that requires professional attention, contact your veterinarian at once.

Types Of Horse Colic

There are several types of equine colic. Some are more serious than others, but any colic should be treated as a potential emergency because the early signs of a life threatening torsion colic may look dangerously like a more benign gas colic.

  • Ideopathic Causes Horse Colic
  • Gas or Spasmodic Horse Colic
  • Impaction Colic in Horses
  • Equine Enteritis and Colitis
  • Displacement or Torsion Colic
  • Gastric Rupture

Ideopathic Causes Horse Colic

Colic has many causes, but the most common? Idiopathic which means “unknown.” So where to begin? How can you prevent such a mysterious condition?

Determine if your horse is at risk for equine colic. There are certain horse breeds that are more susceptible, and certain equestrian sports seem to raise the risk. Older horses and brood mares should be watched more carefully. If your horse is in a higher risk category, be prepared, not panicked!

All horses of any age can colic. Consider your horse’s activity level, diet, and environment, and learn how these factors can impact your horse’s overall health and colic risk. Small changes can make a big difference in your horse’s well-being.

Displacement or Torsion Colic

This is a veterinary emergency. In this situation, the intestine becomes displaced or twists, causing complete intestinal blockage. In almost all cases, immediate surgery is required. Early symptoms of this potentially life-threatening condition are similar to milder forms of colic. All colics should be treated as a potential emergency.

Torsion Colic in Broodmares

Late-term or postpartum broodmares are the highest risk category for colon torsion colics. To reduce the likelihood of postpartum torsion colic, begin exercise and turnout a day or two after foaling. This will allow her organs to gently shift back and help expel fluids. Torsion colic is a life-threatening emergency and its early symptoms mimic mild gas colic. Contact your veterinarian at once if a pregnant or postpartum mare shows any signs of pain or horse colic.

Mares that have suffered torsion colic are at even greater risk for another episode. Consult your equine veterinarian for the best course of action for your horse.

Gastric Rupture

When your horse consumes too much food, water, or air, her stomach can expand rapidly. Your horse’s stomach is small relative it its overall digestive tract and she is unable to vomit. Severe overheating can cause the stomach to dilate excessively and rupture. Ruptures are fatal. 

The most common cause of gastric ruptures is grain overload, but rapid eating (common in socially inferior herd members), vices like cribbing and wind sucking, and overconsumption of cold water on a hot day may trigger dilation, too.

Colic Signs and Symptoms

Horse colic symptoms vary. Depending on the severity of the colic, its location in the digestive tract and the cause of the colic pain, horse colic symptoms can be mild (curling the upper lip) or dramatic (thrashing or rolling).

Your horse may display any of these symptoms or a combination of several. Don’t judge a colic’s severity by the symptoms—in its early stages, a serious displacement or strangulating colic can look very much a more benign gas colic.

Typical colic symptoms include:

  • Head shaking
  • Pawing the ground or stamping, tail twitching
  • Sweating, depression, trembling, and anxiety
  • Repeatedly lying down and getting up
  • Stretching the neck
  • Kicking and biting at the abdomen or watching the flanks
  • Increased urination
  • Decreased manure output or diarrhea, lack of appetite
  • Rolling or thrashing
  • Absence of gut sounds

Other Horse Colic Risk Factors

Sometimes, colic cannot be traced to a specific cause. Some horse breeds are simply more prone to colic and certain diseases and conditions increase the risk.

Pregnant mares, foals and older horses have increased equine colic risk. Off-the-track thoroughbreds might be more colicy, too. If your horse is taking NSAIDs, suffering from kidney stones or battling skin disease, it could up the horse colic risk.

If your horse falls into a higher risk category, don’t panic. Take sensible horse colic prevention measures and keep your eyes open. 

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