First Aid for Colic


Maybe your horse just looks a little off and doesn’t attack his feed like normal, writes Robert N. Oglesby DVM.

Perhaps he occasionally looks at his sides or paws the ground, as the pain worsens he lays down and rolls. If the pain is very severe, he will roll violently.

These are all signs of colic. Colic means the horse has abdominal pain.

There are many different causes but the horse will act the same.

Surgical vs Medical Colic

Veterinarians divide colic into two main types: surgical and medical colics. Surgical colics are displaced segments (twists) of bowel and hard impactions, they require surgery to fix them. Medical colics are usually caused by migrating worm larvae, gas, softer impactions, and occasionally inflammatory bowel diseases. Medical colics will respond to lubricants and pain relievers. Occasionally medical colics will require oral or IV fluids.

Most surgical diseases will mimic medical colic initially and temporarily improve with medical treatment, only to return within the next few hours. If surgery is an option for your horse it is important to get early diagnosis since the horse’s ability to survive surgery lessens as he becomes sicker. The prognosis for surgery is much improved by early referral. Currently, 60% of surgeries are alive after 1 year at most of our educational veterinary hospitals. Early referral will improve these odds.

What To Do Until the Vet Arrives

If you come in to find your horse displaying signs of colic what to do depends on how severe the signs: If the signs are mild:

  1. Take away all his feed, small amounts of water are OK.
  2. The next step is to take his temperature; if he has a fever (above 101) call the vet.
  3. Put a lead rope on him and walk or lunge him at a trot for about 10 to 20 minutes or go for a trailer ride for 30 min. Many mild colics will improve with either of these treatments.
  4. Then put him back in the stall and watch him. If you are unsure about his condition, offer a small handful of feed and see if he will eat it. A colicky horse will as a rule not chew and swallow feed, though he may play with it.
  5. If he is over his bout of colic, continue to check him frequently for 4 to 5 hrs. to make sure the pain does not return. He should not be fed for 12 hours after his appetite returns completely. He should be allowed water.
  6. If he remains painful or you are unsure about his condition call the vet. Even if Old Faithful gets over his pain talk with your vet about possible causes and prevention.

If your horse is very painful you are going to need help.

  1. The first priority is to call the vet.
  2. You would like to prevent the horse from hurting himself and one of the best ways of doing that is to walk him. If the horse is so violent that he is dangerous: stay away; otherwise halter him and walk him until the vet arrives.
  3. If the horse insists on laying down, that is ok so long as he does not roll. Lately many colic specialists have questioned whether rolling causes bowel twists, but until the jury is in, try to prevent it.

» Coping with colic


This article reprinted with permission from, an internet information resource for the equestrian and horse industry since 1994. On the WWW at we have tens of thousands of documents on the web about horse care, diseases, and training.

First published in 2005

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One thought on “First Aid for Colic

  • February 17, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    My horse is in the habit to rub it’s belly near groin area with any thing and it’s top of the tail. Please help and she also got some swelling on both sides of her neck due to Hepagard injection. Please reply


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