Wrangler’s Guide to Colic

1. Definition: Colic is a term used to describe a large range of abdominal discomforts. Colic means bellyache. There are over 100 diagnoses that can be classified under colic.

Colic is the #1 natural killer of horses.

2. Most colics are of three kinds:
1. Gas
* Ever had gas pain – it hurts! A lot!
* Symptoms can be severe – then the horse will release the gas (fart), and the pain is gone and the horse is happy!
o Note: about once per year, Clyde will develop a severe gas colic and appear to be dying.
+ Dan will then give him an enormous amout of very expensive pain killer.
+ Clyde will immediately smile, let rip with the “mother of all farts,” and begin singing old Beach Boys songs
+ It is important to medicate Clyde, so he does not injure himself with thrashing or rolling.
+ Clyde is NOT allowed on trips to Taco Bell.
* The danger here is that horse may harm him/herself by rolling and thrashing.
2. Impaction
* Impaction colics are severe and treatable.
* Something is blocking the intestine.
1. constipation – horse became dehydrated, and contents of intestine became “bricks”
2. sand – horse picked up sand when eating off the ground.
3. mesenteric (large) strongiles
4. unknown
* Impaction is a medical emergency, and we treat immediately and aggressively.
3. Torsion
* Human “innards” are held in place by connective tissue called omentum. You can stand on your head and your intestines will stay where they belong.
* Horse innards are “free floating” in the abdomen.
* Horse intestine can get twisted when horse thrashes around, or sometimes for no known reason.
* Twisted intestine also twists arteries and veins closed, blood supply is strangled, tissue dies, gangrene kills horse.
* Only relief is surgical – about $8,000 and about 40% one-year survival rate.
3. How can you tell which colic is which?
* You can’t.
* Gas will resolve itself.
* Torsion will kill the horse no matter what we do.
* Impactions we can treat.
* Therefore, ALL colics are treated as if they are impactions.
* Horse’s response to our treatment will tell us which colic horse had.
4. Common Causes Colic can be caused by many things. Here are some common causes:
* Sand Colic: When horses ingest sand. Horses that are fed on sandy ground or have access to it may eat small bits of sand. Over time, the sand will build up in the intestines and eventually cause discomfort. The horse may be carrying 30-80 pounds before showing signs of colic.
* Over feeding: If a horse breaks into the feed area and gorges itself colic could result.
* Parasitism: Worm infestations disrupt circulation in the intestines, or blood clots and bits of dead worms may cause blockages. (Mesenteric or large strogiles)
* Irregular Feed Schedule: This may cause a horse to wolf feed if he gets really hungry. Feeding right after work or if horse is still hot also can cause horse to come down with colic. (Debated – common wisdom for hundreds of years, disproved by university studies, but do you want to risk your horse?)
* Sudden Changes in Feed: When you change feeds, or introduce new feed, be sure you do so slowly!
* Ingestion of Non-feed materials: Stones, sticks, twine, and wood splinters are examples. Cribbers or horses that chew wood have a risk of swallowing bits and getting colic.
* Fine Grain: Sometimes it will pack together and cause blockages in the intestine.
* Poisons: Some poisons may cause colic.
* Twisted Intestines: Very severe and life-threatening. There are different types of twists in different areas, and they each have names. Here are a few:
1. Strangulation: When parts of intestine become entangled in tears in the supportive membrane.
2. Incarceration: Intestine is caught in inguinal ring of male horses, and blood supply is cut off by twisting.
3. Intussusception: One part of the intestine falls into the other, like a telescope. More common in foals than older horses.
5. A Word about Sand Colic
* In our experience, sand colic is a problem for those who are low on the pecking order. These are the horses who “vacuum up” after the others are no longer eating.
* This colic is always fatal. Once the sand has formed an obstruction, it is impossible, without surgery, to remove it.
* Our treatment here is preventive:
1. We throw hay in as many piles as we can, to spread the horses out – allowing the less dominant to eat their fair share. (We have tried to feed horses off the ground in tire-feeders and raised mangers – this results in the dominant horses feeding and the less dominant horses going hungry.)
2. Whenever possible, we throw hay on “anything not dirt,” such as rocks and piles of dried manure. At the same time, we stay away from large rock outcroppings that horses, when rushing, can break their legs on – this has happened here.
3. We give all horses psyllium (Metamucil) in their feed the first five times that we grain them each moth. The theory is that the Metamucil “carries” some sand through the GI tract. There is no research proving or disproving this theory, however we have no other ways of prevention.
* The special feeders always get at least 5 doses of psyllium each month. Mark the horse roster “P” on days that you give them psyllium. Psyllium is very expensive – please do not waste it.
6. Signs
* The first signs you may see are uneasiness and a personality change.
* The horse may be uninterested in food or drink, and may act sleepy or dull.
* The temperature may be slightly higher than normal, but the respiration and pulse will usually be normal.
* Later on,
o the horse may swish its tail, stomp a hind leg, turn and look at belly, or nip its sides.
o It may also roll its eyes, snort, or groan.
o The horse shows excessive lip curling (Flehmen response – see description below)
* As the pain increases,
o the horse may kick its belly and lie on the ground and stretch.
o It may also stretch as if to urinate, or may make attempts to defecate with no success or may have diarrhea.
o It may roll lightly, get up and walk in circles, then lie down and roll again.
o It may also walk aimlessly into fences or walls.
* As the colic worsens,
o the horse may bite its sides, kick and thrash, and may roll madly.
o NEVER let a colicing horse roll, because it could twist an intestine and cause serious injury, i.e. a torsion!
o Try to get the horse up, even if it means yelling at or hitting the horse.
o Be VERY CAREFUL- a colicing horse in severe pain doesn’t care what or who you are, it may step on you or crush you accidentally. During this time, the horse’s only focus is trying to rid itself of pain, and it won’t be aware of its surroundings. It may walk into walls or fences or step on things.
o Watch out for your own safety. A thrashing colicky horse can be dangerous and will have little regard for your safety. You are no use to your horse if you get injured!
o You should catch it and, if it is rolling, make it stand; then, proceed to walk it for about 15 minutes.
* Symptoms of colic include…
o Rolling excessively – It is important to recognize the difference between a symptom of colic, and natural horse behavior. For example, horses enjoy rolling around – it is a natural behavior for them. It is imperative that you can tell the difference between when a horse is rolling because they are in pain, or when they are rolling to simply scratch their back.
o Sweating
o Pawing
o Kicking at belly
o Looking at or biting belly
o Change in attitude, or depression
o Lack of appetite
o Unable to defecate
o Little or no gut sounds
o Sitting like a dog or lying down
o Stretching out as if to urinate
o Restlessness, or lying down, getting up, lying down again, etc.
7. Assessment – Vital Signs:
1. Note the time
2. Appearance – dull? sweating?
3. Behavior – See behavioral changes listed above.
4. If you suspect early colic, offer the horse water
5. Pulse – a very good measure of pain
* normal pulse is about 30 beats/minute
* Pulse > 50 indicates severe pain
* Pulse >70 is a horse going into shock – this animal is critically ill
* Note that a normal horse may have an irregular pulse – don’t be surprised or concerned about skipped beats or “doubles” or “triples” – count pulse for 30 seconds if possible.
6. Bowel or gut sounds – listen for a full minute in each quadrant and note character of sounds heard
7. Capillary Refill – our best indicator of blood pressure – normal refill is less than 3 seconds
8. Skin Torsion – indicates hydration
9. Temperature
10. Repeat every 30 minutes
8. Treatment
* All colics are considered medical emergencies.
* If you have determined that an STR horse is colicing, notify Dan immediately, then medicate the horse as listed below.
o If you cannot find Dan, find the Barn Boss, if you cannot find her/him, find Ellen.
o If you cannot find any of these people, call the Vets listed on the kitchen telephone list.
o If you call the vet yourself – be ready to report the vital ssigns to her/him. Do NOT call the vet without vital signs!
* Note: if this is a guest horse,
o call the vets listed on the kitchen phone list immediately with the vital signs. If no vet is immediately available, advise the owner to take the horse to CSU Veterinary Hospital immediately.
o The CSU Veterinary Hospital is on the north side of Drake, between Shields and College.
o If/when the guest is preparing to leave, call the CSU Veterinary Hospital and tell them that a colicing horse is on the way (221-4535 or 297-4471)
o Do not medicate guest horses – this is practicing veterinary medicine without a license!
* Walking the horse can be good. Walking helps peristalsis. Too much walking can exhaust an already stressed horse – think moderation. Allow the horse to lie down if he/she is not thrashing. There are many people that will walk a horse for hours, even all night long, thinking that it will do some good. It won’t. Walking can weaken and exhaust an already fatigued horse.
* If animal is thrashing – protect yourself.
* Medication
o If you have been trained, give the animal 10 cc of Banamine (flunixon meglumate) IV push. (the dose is actually 1 cc per 100 pounds of horse, so a bigger horse can get more).
o If you have not been trained to give IV or if the horse is thrashing too much to access the vein safely, but can give IM, give the horse the same dose (10 cc) in the muscle of his neck.
o Note the time that you gave the injection – this is very important!
o Tranquilizers will NOT make the horse feel any better or prevent the colic from worsening. They should NEVER be used unless the horse is acting so crazy that it is impossible to treat him. They lower the blood pressure, which may increase risk of death in some colics. Tranquilizers are rarely used on colicing horses. (This is a Vet ONLY decision!)
o If you are not successful medicating the horse, Dan will do this when he arrives.
* Prepare for the Vet to put down a stomach tube to give the horse mineral oil and electrolytes:
o Stethoscope
o Bucket of clean warm water to give to horse (one gallon is enough)
o Bucket of clean warm water to wash our hands in
o Electrolytes (if you cannot find electrolyte powder, get Gatorade from kitchen)
o Empty clean bucket
o One gallon bottle of mineral oil
o Stomach tubes
o Stomach pump
o 3-4 Jacuzzi towels &/or handful of clean rags
* The Vet may ask you to assist her/him. Be aware that horses have very vascular noses (with millions of tiny fragile delicate capillaries), and that passing the tube may cause bleeding.
o This can be messy but is not life threatening – you may want to change your shirt into an old shirt.
o This bleeding will appear to be copious, but is most likely not, as it will include a great deal of mucus.
o The horse may throw her/his head, spaying a small amount of blood across a surprisingly large path, usually including you.
o The average quarter horse has about 11 or 12 GALLONS of blood, the horse may appear to be bleeding to death – this is not the case.
o When actually placing the tube, the vet will probably NOT want you to be hlding the horse, but to back away, allowing them “dancing room”
o The vet will place the tube, and then listen to be sure the tube is in the horse’s stomach and not his/her lungs. This may take a while. It also may mean that s/he pulls the tube out and starts over. S/he may do this a number of times. S/he may ask you to help push the horse’s chin towards his/her chest, which helps the tube go through the epiglottis towards the stomach. Sometimes the tube goes down the esophagus (not the trachea) on the first try, sometimes it takes multiple attempts.
o Once the tube is placed:
+ The vet will hold the tube in place, and will ask assistant to empty gallon of oil in clean bucket, add punp and attach tube to pump.
+ If you are doing this, prepare to be covered wth mineral oil, which will not wash out of your clothing – wear old shirt, remove nice clothing
+ The vet will direct you to begin pumping oil, while s/he watches the horse carefully for a reaction.
+ Pump slowly – note that the pump pushes oil on both the up and down strokes.
+ When all (or most) oil has been given, s/he may want you to mix electrolyle powder and warm water in the bucket, and will pump this in as well.
+ When all fluids are given, s/he will ask you to disconnect the pump and back away.
+ S/he will then remove the tube.
o At this point there is very little more that we can do for the horse, but to observe.
+ You amy walk the horse if it makes you feel better.
o Note that we have reserved a very special place in heaven for the person who washes the tube, bucket and pump, and puts them back where they belong.
o Mineral oil CANNOT go down any drains! It will kill the septic system!
9. Simple management steps that can help prevent colic
1. Never allow a horse to become dehydrated! ALWAYS have water available in the corral! Always water horse before leaving on rides! On hot days, always water horses when returning to the barn.
2. Be sure that all feed is stored behind closed doors. If for some reason a horse manages to escape from their stall and gets into a feed bin or storage container, they can overload on carbohydrates resulting in colic.
3. DO feed horses at the same time every day. Horses have very sensitive digestive systems, and if their feeding routine is disrupted, even if only by an hour or two, it’s enough for some horses to colic.
4. DO deworm horses regularly. A good parasite control program can help prevent colic caused by parasites.
5. Feed the minimum amount of grain and other high carbohydrate-rich foods as necessary to maintain healthy weight and energy. Feeding excess grain can cause colic.
6. Feed only the SAME TYPE of feed to a horse regularly. Change in feed can easily cause colic. If moving a horse to a different type of feed is necessary, do so in small stages, weaning them slowly onto the new feed.
10. Flehmen response Dude Ranch Staff: Flehman
* The flehmen response, also called the flehmen position, flehmen reaction, flehming, or flehmening, is a particular type of curling of the lips, which facilitates the transfer of odorant chemicals into the vomeronasal organ.
* In the flehmen reaction, animals draw back their lips in a manner that makes them appear to be “grimacing”. The pose, which is adopted when examining scents left by other animals of the same species, helps expose the vomeronasal organ and draws scent molecules back toward it.
* This behavior allows animals to detect odorants, for example from urine, of other members of their species.
* Flehming allows the animals to determine several factors, including the presence or absence of estrus, the physiological state of the animal, and how long ago the animal passed by. This particular response is most recognizable in stallions when smelling the urine of a mare in heat.
* The vomeronasal organ, also called Jacobson’s organ, is a chemoreceptor organ thought to have to do with the perception of certain pheromones. It is named for its closeness to the vomer and nasal bones, and is particularly developed in animals like cats and horses. The organ is located on the roof of the mouth. In addition to housecats and horses, animals that exhibit the flehmen reaction include buffalo, tigers, tapirs, lions, giraffes, and llamas.
* The flehmen response may also be seen in association with pain. In horses it is often associated with low grade abdominal pain
* Male wrangles sometimes exhibit the flehman response for unknown reasons… It is hypothesised that the frequency of this behavior is related to the wrangler’s Idiot Quotient, which , in turn, can be related to alcohol intake and the “need” to impress any female wranglers that may be in the immediate vicinity. If this beciomes a habit, the female staff can arrange with HMTRQ (Her Majesty The Ranch Queen) to have a gallon on mineral oil administered to the afflicted male wrangler using the smae tube and procedures listed above (eithet naso-gastrically or per rectum), without medication.
11. Finally, how to behave when the Vet is here (rules):
1. Always have one or two buckets of warm water and jaccuzzi towels available to the vet for washing, and clean rags for cleaning instruments. have a smaller trash can available.
2. Mounting steps make good “tables”
3. The Vet is very busy trying to analyze the horse’s symptoms. Very busy. Do NOT pepper the Vet with questions, stories, or opinions. Let the Vet work – let her/him think in quiet.
4. The Vet will very likely be thinking out loud as s/he goes through “decision trees” to differentiate her/his diagnosis. Listen carefully, but do NOT interrupt her/him.
5. After the Vet is done treating the horse, you may ask questions while cleaning up.
6. The Vet is charging us in 15 minute increments, this includes the time s/he is answering your very interesting questions.
7. Never leave the Vet alone – at least one person should be available to assist her/him at all times.
8. At the same time, our guests must not be ignored,. The proggram does not stop. Care for your guests!
9. Depending on the time of day, always provide drinking water or lemonaide, or hot coffee, and/ finegr foods (snadwiches) available.


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