Tis the season... for colic
Colic is hands down the most common equine emergency. We see it year round, but here in Florida, there is a definite spike in colic emergencies during the change of seasons. Horses often have difficulty adapting to the temperature fluctuations that we experience here in the fall. Understanding the causes of colic and the symptoms associated with colic can help you address the problem early on and have a better outcome.
Colic is a general term for abdominal pain. It can be small intestinal or large intestinal. It can be simple and uncomplicated or it can be life threatening and surgical. It also encompasses a variety of different symptoms which can make it hard to identify when it is subtle. EARLY IDENTIFICATION is key. The symptoms associated with colic include:
1. Not interested in food
2. Eating slowly
4. Stretching out
5. Frequent urination
6. Looking or biting at their flank
7. Curling of the upper lip (flehmen response)
8. Laying down
9. Laying down and standing up repeatedly
12. Kicking at their belly
13. Buckling at the knees
If you notice any of these symptoms, we recommend that you take all food away from your horse. No hay, grain, or pasture. Next, call your veterinarian. We're going to ask questions that go something like this:
1. When did you first notice your horse acting abnormally?
2. When was their last meal?
3. Has your horse had any banamine (keep reading for an explanation of banamine)?
4. How old is your horse?
5. Is he/she on a diet that include coastal hay?
6. Any recent changes in diet?
7. Any prior history of colic?
Based on your answers, we may recommend that you monitor the situation over a period of time or we may recommend that the horse be examined by one of our veterinarians. Banamine (also known as Flunixin Meglumine) is a drug that is frequently used in colic situations. It is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that relieves pain associated with colic. It can be both helpful AND hurtful in a colic situation. It will alleviate discomfort (which is good) but can also mask the underlying cause of the colic. We recommend that you give it ONLY under the guidance of a veterinarian.
If we decide that your horse needs to have an examination by a veterinarian, then you should expect the following to be performed:
1. Physical exam (heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, mucous membrane color, gut sounds, etc)
2. Rectal exam (This is done to feel for any intestinal abnormalities)
3. Pass a nasogastric tube into the stomach (This is performed to make sure there is no gastric reflux. Horses can not vomit so if their stomachs are full of vomit, we pass the tube to give it a way to come out. If there is no reflux...aka vomit... then we may administer water, mineral oil, or electrolytes through the tube)
We do all of these things so that we can determine the underlying cause of the abdominal pain. Without knowing the underlying cause, we can't determine the best treatment. So to start, we try to decide if the problem is small intestinal or large intestinal. Then we decide if the colic can be managed on the farm or if the colic requires referral for surgery. Not every colic is an impaction. Here is a list of other types of colic:
3. enterolith (a big GI stone)
4. displacement (the GI system got twisted up and is not in the right spot)
5. enteritis (excess production of vomit) or colitis (diarrhea)
6. strangulated bowel (something cut off blood supply to the intestines)
7. rupture (a hole opened up in some part of the GI system and now GI contents are leaking into the abdomen)
Treatment really depends on the type of colic that we suspect your horse has. Sometimes we start with rehydration (either through the nasogastric tube or with IV fluids). Other times, referral to a hospital is necessary. In every case, we withhold food and monitor comfort closely. We also keep track of how much the horse is pooping. Call us the poop police, but our motto is that its always better out than in.