Is equine colic an emergency?

After 12 hours of watching my horse colic, and two shots of Banamine later, not to mention walking my horse for what seemed like a million miles, we resorted to pumping in a gallon of mineral oil with no results. When we contacted our regular vet, he said this was not an emergency and could wait until morning. Is colic a real emergency or were we just panicking?

Colic is not a disease, but rather a very general term for abdominal pain in your horse.  The most common signs of colic include but are not limited to:

  • Looking at the flank area
  • Pawing incessantly
  • Kicking or biting at the belly
  • Getting up and down
  • Restlessness
  • Repeated rolling
  • Decreased/lack of appetite
  • Stretching out and posturing as if to urinate
  • Yawning/stretching jaw

If your horse is presenting with these signs or other abnormal behavior for that particular horse, time is of the essence, and early intervention can really make the difference.  There are many different causes of equine colic, most of which are related to the gastrointestinal tract, and range greatly in their severity of pain.  The length of time that a horse is experiencing colic can also be important in the severity.  While some causes of colic can take up to a few days to resolve, the longer your horse goes without resolution, the more serious the colic episode can be too.
Many colic cases will resolve without medical attention and we, as horse owners, may never know that they occurred.   If signs worsen, or seem prolonged, it is time to give your veterinarian a call.  Once you have called, wait by the phone and when your veterinarian calls, they will begin with a few questions regarding your horse’s vital signs (temperature, pulse, respiration), general behavior, recent bowel movements, and history (How long has he been colicky? When was the last meal?).  Be prepared to answer these basic questions, and if the veterinarian deems it necessary, be prepared for a veterinary visit.

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