Every horse owner knows the sinking feeling that comes with witnessing their beloved equine companion in distress. Colic, a general term for abdominal pain in horses, is a frighteningly common occurrence that can range from mild discomfort to a life-threatening emergency. Due to the complex nature of a horse’s digestive system, even seemingly minor colic can quickly escalate into a serious situation. Fortunately, early intervention is critical for a horse’s recovery, and recognizing the signs of colic is the first step. By arming yourself with this knowledge, you can become a more proactive horse owner and ensure your equine friend receives the prompt care they deserve during a critical time.

Understanding Equine Colic: What It Is and Why It’s Serious

The term “colic” in horses refers to a broad spectrum of abdominal pain caused by various disruptions within the digestive system. Unlike humans who can easily communicate discomfort, a horse’s signs of colic can be subtle or dramatic depending on the severity of the issue.


Colic can be categorized into different types based on the underlying cause. Here are some of the most common ones:


  • Impaction Colic: This occurs when a blockage forms in the horse’s digestive tract, preventing the normal passage of food and fluids. Common culprits include coarse feed, sand accumulation, or a heavy parasite burden.
  • Gas Colic: Excessive gas buildup within the intestines can cause significant pain and discomfort. This can be triggered by sudden dietary changes, fermentation issues, or even stress.
  • Spasmodic Colic: This type involves uncontrollable muscle contractions in the intestinal walls, leading to cramping and pain. It can be caused by electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, or certain medications.
  • Strangulated Colic: This is the most serious form of colic, where a portion of the intestine becomes twisted or trapped, cutting off blood flow to the affected tissue. If left untreated, strangulated colic can lead to tissue death and even rupture, posing a significant threat to the horse’s life.


It’s important to remember that regardless of the specific type, colic disrupts the horse’s delicate digestive process. This can lead to imbalances in electrolytes and fluids, along with potential bacterial overgrowth within the intestines. The longer colic goes untreated, the greater the risk of complications like dehydration, endotoxemia (toxin release from dying bacteria), and tissue damage. Early detection and prompt veterinary intervention are crucial for maximizing a horse’s chances of a full recovery.

Don’t Miss the Signs: Spotting Equine Colic Early

While a horse in pain will undoubtedly exhibit some form of distress, the signs of colic can vary depending on the severity of the condition and the individual horse’s temperament. Here are some key behavioral and physical changes to watch out for:


  • Changes in Behavior: A normally calm horse may become restless, anxious, or even aggressive. Look for pacing, pawing the ground repeatedly, kicking at the abdomen, or frequent attempts to lie down and get back up.
  • Discomfort and Pain: Horses experiencing colic often display signs of discomfort in their facial expressions. Flehmen response (repeatedly curling the upper lip) and sweating can be indicators of pain. Additionally, they may grind their teeth, vocalize with whinnies or groans, or appear withdrawn and unresponsive.
  • Gut Sounds: Normally, a healthy horse’s digestive system produces audible gurgling sounds. However, in colic cases, these sounds may be absent, indicating a complete blockage, or become very loud and frequent, suggesting excessive gas buildup.
  • Changes in Appetite and Elimination: A horse suffering from colic will likely lose interest in food or water. Additionally, they may have difficulty passing manure, producing smaller than usual droppings, or passing feces with mucus present.


Every horse is an individual, and their response to colic can vary. It’s crucial to be familiar with your horse’s normal behavior and demeanor to recognize even subtle changes that might indicate a problem. By paying close attention to these potential signs, you can act swiftly and seek veterinary attention before a minor colic episode escalates into a life-threatening situation.

When to Call Brazos for Emergency Colic Care

Early intervention is the single most important factor in a horse’s successful recovery from colic. Because colic can quickly progress from mild discomfort to a life-threatening emergency, knowing when to call for veterinary assistance is critical. 


Don’t hesitate to call your equine vet immediately if your horse exhibits any of the following signs:


  • Persistent Discomfort: If your horse displays signs of pain that last for more than 15-20 minutes, particularly if the intensity increases or doesn’t subside with minimal movement, it’s a strong indication of a serious issue.
  • Deterioration in Condition: If your horse’s initial signs of colic worsen over time, such as becoming increasingly lethargic, showing signs of weakness, or developing a rapid heart rate, it signifies a potential progression of the condition and necessitates immediate veterinary intervention.
  • Straining Without Elimination: Witnessing your horse straining to defecate without passing any manure is a red flag for a possible impaction or strangulated colic. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in these scenarios to prevent further complications.
  • Visible Signs of Distress: If your horse exhibits extreme behaviors like rolling excessively, throwing itself to the ground, or experiencing violent muscle tremors, it signifies a severe level of pain and requires emergency veterinary attention.


Peace of Mind with Brazos Valley Equine Hospitals, Salado

Equine colic is a frightening reality for horse owners in Salado, TX. By understanding the different forms of colic, recognizing the warning signs, and acting swiftly, you can significantly increase your horse’s chances of a successful recovery. At Brazos Valley Equine Hospitals (BVEH), our team of equine colic specialists is available to provide the highest level of emergency care, utilizing advanced diagnostics and personalized treatment plans. Don’t wait until a colic episode strikes, be prepared! Schedule a routine wellness exam for your horse at BVEH to ensure their overall health and discuss preventative measures to minimize the risk of colic. Book an appointment today and experience the peace of mind that comes with knowing your horse has access to exceptional veterinary care, whenever they need it most.

Brazos Valley Equine Hospitals