Colic in Horses

Equine Colic & Digestive Health

SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian regarding specific questions about your horse's health. This information is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, and is purely educational.

Brief Description

Colic in horses is abdominal pain that may be caused by a number of different problems. It is a common and potentially fatal condition that horse owners should try to prevent through proven management strategies. There are several recognized types of colic, including:

  • Impaction
  • Gas or spasmodic colic
  • Intestinal strangulation (twist)
  • Stomach rupture
  • Enteritis (inflammation of the intestines)
  • Idiopathic (unknown cause)
The American Association of Equine Practitioners lists the following as signs of colic:
  • Pawing
  • Looking at, kicking or biting the abdomen
  • Stretching out as if to urinate
  • Repeatedly lying down and getting up
  • Rolling
  • Sitting in a dog-like position or lying on the back
  • Not eating or drinking
  • Lack of bowel movements
  • Absent or reduced digestive sounds
  • Elevated respiration or heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Depression
  • Lip curling (Flehman response)

Supplements that May Lend Support

Because there are many causes of colic, there are many supplements that may help reduce a horse’s risk. If you live in a sandy area, Psyllium is recommended to help move sand out of the gastrointestinal tract so it does not accumulate. Digestive supplements that provide prebiotics, probiotics, yeast and/or digestive enzymes may help maintain regularity of the digestive system. Hindgut buffers are excellent choices for horses that colic from starch overload, either from diets high in grain, introduction to fresh grass, or sudden change in diet. To prevent impaction colic, encourage the horse to drink more water by feeding salt or a complete electrolyte supplement. Daily dewormers may also prevent colic by protecting the horse’s gastrointestinal tract from the inflammation and scarring caused by the migration and encysting of strongyles.

Possible Diagnostic Tests

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination that may include palpating the abdomen through the rectum and passing a tube into the stomach. Bloodwork, a “belly tap,” x-ray (radiography) or ultrasound may also be performed to determine the cause and severity.

Prescription Medications Available

Banamine® (flunixin meglumine) is commonly used to relieve the pain of colic. In mild cases, this may be all the horse needs. However, some horses may require mineral oil, fluids or other prescription medications such as Buscopan or xylazine. Severe colics may require surgery.

Other Management Suggestions


Make any changes to the diet gradually. This includes not only switching grains, but also switching hays and introducing horses to new or different pastures.


Because increased stall time is a risk factor for colic, keep your horse turned out as much as possible.


Both increases and decreases in activity can lead to colic, so make changes in your horse’s exercise routine gradually and try to follow a schedule of regular, controlled exercise.

Preventive Care

Parasite control, dental care and sound nutrition will reduce your horse’s risk of developing colic.

Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian

  • Why did my horse colic?
  • Is he likely to colic again, especially if he has surgery?
  • Are there any medications I should have on hand in case of colic?

Additional Resources

Further Reading for You

From our site:
Colic Prevention: Proven tips to reduce risk
oliCare: Colic Surgery Reimbursement Program from SmartPak
From the SmartPak Ask the Vet Blog:
Dealing with Colic Pains
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Mollie and Eden
I started riding when I was 9 years old and quickly got swept up into the competitive hunter/jumper world. I showed my first pony, Chloe, in the Small Pony Hunter divisions were we competed at shows like Fairfield Hunt Club, Old Salem, HITS, and West...

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