Gas Colic in Horses
By: Dr. Lydia Gray, SmartPak Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian
What is Gas Colic?
Colic is any pain in the abdomen. Gas colic (sometimes referred to as ‘spasmodic colic’) is defined as mild to moderate abdominal pain in horses that either resolves on its own or with a single visit and medical treatment by a veterinarian. Mild gas build-up within a horse’s digestive tract is thought to be one of the most common causes of colic. Although the underlying reason for most gas colic is never identified, proven risk factors for all colic such as changes in diet and feeding, stabling and activity, and health and wellness care are likely here too. Signs of gas colic can be the same as any other kind of colic: pawing, looking at the belly, lying down and getting up, rolling, not eating or drinking, not passing manure, sweating, depression or lethargy, and elevated heart and respiratory rates.
What can be done about it?
Even though gas colic is common, a veterinarian should be called right away if a horse shows any of the signs listed above rather than administering ‘home remedies’ for the pain for several reasons. First, without a diagnosis, it’s possible the abdominal pain could be caused by a more serious type of colic such as a displacement, twist, or entrapment. Second, untreated gas colic can progress to a more serious type of colic. And finally, it is important to relieve the horse’s discomfort and restore the GI tract to proper working order as quickly as possible to avoid complications. The vet will perform a physical exam that may include nasogastric intubation (‘stomach tube’) and rectal palpation then administer treatment such as a pain-reliever, sedative, fluids, and mineral oil.
What else do I need to know?
Prevention of gas colic in horses involves following feeding and management ‘best practices’ such as making any hay and grain changes gradually; providing access to clean, fresh water at all times; turning out as much as possible vs keeping in a stall for extended periods of time; making exercise changes (both increases or decreases) gradually; and keeping up with preventive health care such as parasite control.
Horses that undergo diet and management changes, that are prone to chronic gas colic, or that seem to just pass a lot of gas (‘gassy horses’) may benefit from supplements intended to support the normal health and function of the hindgut. These include products with ingredients such as prebiotics, probiotics, yeast, and enzymes, which are thought to nourish and maintain the population of microorganisms that naturally live within the horse’s digestive tract. Encapsulated bicarbonate is an ingredient that specifically addresses excess fermentation in the hindgut and may be helpful during times of sugar and starch overload such as introduction to spring pastures or grain changes.
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.