Colic: How You Deal with It

A little preparation can help you make clearer decisions about what course of action you might take if your horse comes down with colic. Having a plan also could aid your veterinarian in treating your equine and improve the chances for the animal's quick recovery.

How to Prepare for Colic

Colic Surgery

If your horse is not responding to standard "on the farm" treatment, surgery may be necessary. Further tests also may be required at a veterinary hospital or laboratory to determine if surgery is needed. Usually, your vet can make this determination by examining the horse in the barn, but in some cases, it's worth getting your horse to an established round-the-clock facility for observation and intensive care, including fluid therapy. Surgery usually is necessary when the following occurs:

The cost of colic surgery ranges from $6,000 to $10,000 depending on the institution and the post-surgery price tag. Complications could boost the cost. Recovery varies, but 12 weeks is a minimum before exercise can be restarted for most surgical colics. There usually is an intense period of aftercare in the hospital for a week or so, followed by 12-plus weeks of cautious hand-walking and small-paddock turnout.

Horses that have had colic are predisposed to get it again, although the risk depends on the nature of the colic and the surgical procedure that was needed to repair the problem. Surgical invasion of the bowel wall, resection (removal of a segment), or bypasses usually result in a higher rate of complications and repeated colics. To help you decide whether to go ahead with the operation, ask the surgeon to explain the procedure and potential complications.

Not everyone can afford colic surgery, and it is possible that further medical treatment could stave off an operation. But if a vet says that surgery is immediately needed, it usually means that the horse will die without it. Surgical clinics differ in their payment requirements, but typically a significant deposit is required. Payment plans are offered by some clinics in extenuating circumstances.

How to Reduce Chances for Recurrence of Colic

The truth is, you usually cannot determine the exact cause of colic. Veterinarians have claimed that colic is mostly a result of human error. That may or may not be true, but non-vigilant horse care could be a factor in triggering colic. It also is difficult to completely control horses' eating habits because they are continuous grazers.

One study showed that excess feeding of pelleted grain promoted gas colics and displacements. Another study showed that automatic (versus bucket) watering reduced the frequency of gastric impactions. However, most studies are inconclusive. Obviously, any sudden change of feeding is likely to disturb the digestive system and increases the risk of colic.

In an effort to reduce the risk of future bouts of colic, ask the following questions: