Sunday, December 14, 2008

'Tis the Season to Colic

I walked outside with my camera ready to take new pictures after the horses ate their breakfast and found this...

Hmmmm. She could just be cold, but she could also have a tummy ache. I made a loud noise to see how she'd react. She brought her front legs out in front of her, but couldn't seem to get up. She also had dirt all over her, which means she had been rolling.

At this point I was pretty sure it was a case of cold weather colic, since I hadn't done anything to change her diet. I decided to see how bad the pain was by pouring some grain and bran into a bucket. That got her attention and she stood up. Her legs were not shaking, which was another good sign, but I didn't see any fresh piles of manure in her pen, which was not a good sign. The bran should help get her intestines moving. She did eat, but between mouthfuls she pawed the ground and spun in circles as if she was going to lie down to roll. Pawing and rolling are signs of pain. Veterinarians advise horse owners to put a halter on their horse and walk it around to prevent it from rolling. It is possible for a horse to twist its intestines causing a worse blockage when rolling on the ground.

Another sign of colic or tummy pain is stretching. Lostine was doing that too. She places her front legs way out in front of her and her back legs behind her and rocks back and forth to stretch out her intestines. A horse that is in pain from colic may also nip at its tummy as if biting at a pesky fly.

To treat the pain, I got out a baggy of Bute (phenylbutazone) in powder form and mixed one teaspoon into a syringe case with water, and then sucked it up into the syringe and shot it into my horse's mouth. This is tricky, because you have to hold the horse's head still with a halter, stick your thumb in the side of the horse's mouth to get it to open, and then squirt the syringe far enough down the throat that the medicine won't spill out of the mouth. Bute is a prescribed medication you need to get from a veterinarian. I happened to have some left over from a previous episode.

In addition to the bran, I administered some Micro Balance paste to help with digestion. It contains bacterial microorganisms that help maintain an intestinal balance and it hydrates. You want to encourage your horse to drink water, but you know that old saying: "You can lead a horse to water, but..."

Lastly, I needed to walk my horse to help get things moving in her intestines and to keep her from rolling. I was walking her around the paddock and started thinking about how easy it is to make a horse poop just by loading it into a horse trailer. Horse trailers make most horses nervous, and bad nerves result in loose bowels. I decided I had to do something to make Lostine nervous so that she could pass her manure.

I walked her off the property away from the other horses and she instantly perked up. Bombay and Gabbrielle whinnied out to her, and she was no longer her listless self. That head shot up and she began trotting beside me and breathing hard. She fought with me to get back to her friends, and took a few snatches of grass in between, so I knew she was feeling better. I kept her out just long enough for her to get nervous and then returned her to the paddock where she pooped and resumed normal, healthy horse behaviors. By then I felt confident that she wasn't going to roll, so I cut her loose to rest.

If your horse shows signs of colic, I recommend that you call for assistance from a veterinarian right away. I chose not to because I am very familiar with my horse's colic. Her episodes are usually just gas, which I can manage through the procedures I described. However, your horse may have sand in its intestines or perhaps twisted them, in which case your horse would need immediate care from a vet. Colic is one of leading causes of death in horses.


Kirsten said...

Wow, what a great, informative post! I am happy Lostine is feeling better. She is so beautiful!

Jessie said...

Just reading this post made me nervous. I hate colic... My Uncle's horse had to have a very expensive colic surgery when he was 17. He was the horse I learned to ride on and he taught me so much. I learned how to look for his signs of colic, and what to do to get him to poop! I am glad you know what to do for your mare.

dp said...

Poor girl. Glad to hear that she is feeling better. No matter how much experience you have it is still stressful to know that your horse is in pain.

Cheryl said...

Sunni, unknown to us, colicked the day we moved the herd down from Lancaster to our local mountains. And, yes, the new board lady called out the vet IMMEDIATELY! He got the usual treatment and the vet announced, "This horse is FULL of sand!" Yes. The previous owner had fed them ALL on the ground for 9 months!!! No wonder he was full of sand! I LOVE where they are now: hay feeders and the lady keeps a close watch on ALL of them! She even found 2 of the mustangs' teeth and gave them to me! Yes. Colic is scary. I was so scared for Sunni I was shaking when the vet came! I didn't want to lose him. After he was tubed and given mineral oil, he pooped! BUT, he WAS full of sand and it took a while to get rid of it! I give them a feed that has probiotics in it and they all are healthy now. Sometime I'll post "before" and "after" pics and you'll see the difference in them!

Lulu said...

We lost a mare to colic when I was a kid. Her intestine twisted over 360 degrees around itself...leaving her 6 week old colt an orphan.

That episode was not in the winter, but this time of year I closely monitor how much my horses are drinking.

Fantastyk Voyager said...

Oooh, just reading this makes me nervous! It's been a loooong time since I had a colicky horse. KNOCK ON WOOD! I usually just had to walk them out and pour mineral oil down their throats for them to get better.

I carefully monitor their hay to make sure there is no mold and give only a handful of grain so they can get their vitamin supplement.

I didn't know they could get it from weather changes. Mine have always gotten colic from busting into the grain bin or too much alfalfa when the barn door was left open. Thankfully, it's never gone into founder on me.

Jenn said...

OH, those photos of Lostine stretched out in pain brought back some horrible memories. I am so, so happy she's okay!

I've lost two to colic. My husband's mare, Heidi, died after she busted through the fence at the barn we boarded at and got into a field of brand new alfalfa. She gorged all night long. No one noticed she didn't come up to the barn in the morning for breakfast. No one noticed she was laying out in the field in pain for HOURS and finally got around to calling me late in the afternoon when someone finally noticed her. By that time it was too late. She ruptured and died before the vet got there. It was HORRIBLE.

My mare, Star, died four years ago from colic. The vet came out and oiled her, we walked her, and gave her painkillers and she was doing better, but she ruptured and died overnight. This was also a boarding situation where no one noticed she wasn't doing well until the colic was well on it's way to being fatal.

These are the two major reasons I will never, ever, not in a million years, board my horses again. I can't trust anyone else with their health and well being. If I can't have them at home, I won't have them at all.

Colic is horrible, horrible, horrible and never to be taken lightly. It's not just a tummy ache, it is life threatening.

With all colic, hydration is essential and proper hydration can mean the difference between life and death. A well-hydrated horse has better chance of surviving a bad colic than a dehydrated one.

I prefer Banamine to Bute in more serious cases of colic. It's faster acting and is known to fight some of the dangerous toxins released into the blood stream during a serious case of colic. I always have a tube of paste Banamine around and prefer to have a bottle of injectable Banamine when possible.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

I'm sorry for everyone who has owned or known a horse that has died from colic. It seems that all the horses I've known that have died, died from colic with one exception, and that one died form cancer.

What I'm calling "cold weather colic" is usually the result of a horse not being hydrated enough. If you don't have a water heater, the water in the troughs gets icy in the winter and the horses don't want to drink it because it is too cold or can't drink it because it is one big block of ice. I have de-icers in my outdoor troughs, but no electricity in my barn. I have to break the ice on those indoor troughs and occasionally bring buckets of warm water from the house out to the horses. Also, simply being cold can cause a horse's digestion to slow down.

I'm beginning to think there is such a thing a Sunday or holiday colic as well, since Lostine only gets sick when it's really hard to find a vet.

Reddunappy said...

Its good you read your horse so well. We came home late one night and the horses were in a wierd spot for that time of night and Mickey was laying down, I just knew something was wrong, sure enough she was colicy, walked her for awhile and went to my brother in laws to get a tube of banamine, they have a large stable so always have it around. After I gave her the banamine she relaxed, ate grass, good and wet as it was raining. and finally pooped a little, it took her system awhile to move normally but she was fine after that.
It really is scary.

No one but a horse person understands the joy of poop!!! LOL

Vaquerogirl said...

I like banamine for colic instead of bute also. Plus my vet actually advised not to walk too much- it wears them out if they are seriously sick and does not do anything- except to make the owners feel better. Luckily we have two or three really good vet hospitals/ schools around here- Davis Large animal clinic- Pioneer Clinic and one in Tracy. If the vet can't get to my horse, I can get my horse to a vet -
Glad your pony is doing well- those photos are heart wrenching!

Vaquerogirl said...

Oh and one more thing- Psyllium!! Any horse fed on the ground, and especially horses that are in sandy areas- like the Central Valley of Calif or desert areas. It is a lot cheaper to feed psyllium than to call for a vet!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Colic is such a scary word, NM! I'm so glad you undestand your beautiful Lostine and know just what to do. And I'm really glad to read she pulled through just fine. Whew!

I feel so inadequate as a horse owner sometimes, even though I try to read everything and take good care of my horse.

Next time my vet visits, should I ask him to give me some Bute and Banamine for emergencies?
Where do I find psyllium?

Can you suggest other items to have on hand for emergencies, too?

New Mexico
(where it's snowing with 7" of white stuff on the ground and up to a foot predicted by tomorrow night)

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

Lisa - Yes, it is a good idea to see if your vet will supply you with Bute or Banamine for emergencies. Psyllium should be found in powder form in a feed store or online at places such as I know a lady who just used a generic form of Metamucil to save herself some money. I, personally, have never had luck with psyllium. Either the horses won't eat it, or if they do, the colic episodes don't get any better. Since psyllium can get quite expensive, I stopped using it, but every horse is different.

I'm sure you already have a variety of vet hospital phone numbers within reach so that anyone can call in an emergency? You need several vets in case some are not available. Every time I have an emergency, my vets are out covering some other emergency and can't come by for several hours. Also, it occurred to me the other day that I'm the only one who knows how to treat colic. My husband can recognize it, but he wouldn't know what to do beyond walking the horse and calling me, so it would be good to have emergency instructions posted for others in case you are away on a trip.

Have a horse trailer ready whether through an arrangement with someone who owns one or by simply hooking up your truck to yours and making sure it is empty so that you can load the horse right in.

If making the horse nervous doesn't help it to pass manure, you can try the opposite approach of helping it to relax through massage and grooming.

Make sure the horses have plenty of water and that it is warm enough for them to drink. You can give them an electrolyte gel (which can be found in feed stores or at to keep them hydrated in emergencies.

Horses that are greedy eaters will ingest whatever comes up with the food including sand, so if you can find a feeder that keeps the majority of hay off the ground, that's a good preventative measure. My horses actually throw their hay out of their feeders, which are sheep water troughs, and prefer to eat off the ground. I'm constantly picking up the hay and putting it back into the trough. Fortunately, I've watched them eat, and they tend to brush dirt off hay with their lips before eating it. My neighbor has those hanging bins with bars that hold one flake of hay, and the horses just rip the hay out between the bars and throw it on the floor. So it's hard to find a foolproof feed trough. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

One other thing... Double latch or double lock your gates so the horse can't get out and get into the hay or grain. Overeating can trigger colic and cause founder.

We have a very lush front lawn. Whenever some horses in the neighborhood bust out, they make a beeline for my lawn and can quickly gorge themselves if no one notices them there or notices that they are missing. I'll bet the neighborhood horses all gossip about my lawn and that's how they all know about it.

Also, if you board your horse, make sure the boarders are educated on colic and basic veterinary care. My neighbors board horses and they don't have a clue. Some people just move to the country, buy some land and want to make money with it, so they board horses. It doesn't mean they know the first thing about horses, nor does it mean they have a business license.

If your horses are on your own property, make sure you have a good neighbor who can keep an eye on them when you're not home. My horse-breeding neighbor and I look out for each other. She's called me multiple times to let me know that one of my horses is colicking or tangled in his blanket. I've called her multiple times to let her know that her horses got out.

Callie said...

My Kola stress colics all the time, at the first incline, I hit her with probios and banamine! and most times it seems to work!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Thanks for all those great ideas and tips, NM. You sspent alot of time on your reply and I appreciate it :)

New Mexico