The Ins and Outs of Colic Horses

Colic is, at its most basic, abdominal pain, and is not a diagnosis, but rather a symptom. Treatment can be divided into two categories: either medical or surgical. Treatment depends on the comfort of the horse and diagnoses of the specific cause. (Photo courtesy of

By Garrett Metcalf, DVM

The horse’s gastrointestinal tract has been plaguing owners and veterinarians for centuries, causing long nights of endless worrying, fear and financial strain. The gastrointestinal tract in horses is far from perfect, but we have come to understand it much greater in the past few decades, leading us to be able to treat and prevent colic with much greater success.

There are many causes of colic in horses with some avoidable and some that are not. Colic is a very broad overarching term that simply indicates abdominal pain and is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom. This article will discuss the key aspects of colic in horses, treatment methodologies and ways to avoid colic.

Prevalence of Colic

If you are a horse owner and haven’t experienced colic before, consider yourself very blessed. There will be a time when just about every horse owner will have a horse colic. According to data from the USDA, the incidence of colic published in 2001 was 4.2 events/100 horses per year. In previous studies, the findings ranged from 3.5 to 26 colics/100 horses per year. The incidence of fatalities from colic was 11 percent, and the overall percentage of horses that required surgery was only 1.4 percent.

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