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The world colic comes from the word colon (or large intestine) and refers to gastrointestinal pain experienced in the abdomen from a variety of causes. Colic poses a great challenge to horse owners as the leading cause of death in horses. While statistics show that 1 in 10 horses will die of colic; the actual cause of colic varies widely. It is estimated that between 10-11% of the general horse population will suffer from colic.


Although colic is manageable in horses, many owners are not properly informed to recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease early enough.  Once these symptoms are recognized, immediate attention and treatment by your veterinarian is critical in saving the life of your precious equine.


There are many types of colic as well as a number of potential causes. It is very important to understand that a case of colic cannot be cured without the knowledge of its specific cause. Some of the causes of colic include the following (but may not be limited to just this list):


» Sudden changes in weather;

» Sudden changes in feeding (frequency, quantity or quality of the feed or the consumption of moldy or spoiled feed);

» Overexertion;

» Chilling;

» Ulcers, an increasingly common reason for colic;

» Internal parasites (considered the most common cause of colic);

» Administering a strong dewormer to an equine overloaded with internal parasites;

» Spasms/severe contractions of the intestines (possibly caused by a gas buildup in the large intestine);

» Intestinal obstructions (including sandy particles from grazing, chunks of food in the large intestine, a very large number of roundworms or even a foreign object); and/or

» A twisted intestine (called torsion where external factors move the intestines out of their normal position by turning and coiling); and

» A possible link between equine tapeworm and colic (identified recently by Italian researchers).


It is also important to note that symptoms of colic are not always from a disease or disorder of the digestive tract. They can also potentially be caused by:


» Infections in the body (in the urogenital tract:  urinary and genital) or respiratory tract);

» Pregnancy;

» Infectious diseases like rabies or pleurisy (inflammation of the thin membrane covering the lungs and lining of the chest cavity);

» Parasites in blood vessels leading to the intestines

» Dermatitis;

» Lameness (laminitis);

» Bolting (the practice of eating food at a dangerously fast rate); and

» Cribbing (the horse grabbing a solid object like a stall door or fence rail with its teeth, arching its neck, pulling against the object and sucking in air).



SYMPTOMS: Equines with mild colic are known to paw the ground; appear restless, groan and look or bite at their abdomen.  Equines with severe colic will throw themselves to the ground and roll frequently, sometimes even violently. The equine may also stand stretched out as if trying to relieve itself in an effort to relieve the gastrointestinal pain and bloating.


To the untrained eye in the early part of colic, it may be difficult to differentiate between a mild case of colic and a fatal one. If you suspect that your horse may be suffering from colic and walking the affected equine does not help to release trapped gas, call your vet immediately to properly diagnose and treat the cause.



The use of sedatives and painkillers offers immediate relief to an equine with colic and at the same time helps the veterinarian properly diagnose the cause of the pain.


In the case of colic caused by gastrointestinal tract blockages, the vet will administer mineral oil or other stool softeners into the intestinal tract through a tube to help improve the natural lubrication and assist in the passing of the blockage.


If initial treatments do not effectively work, then surgery may be warranted particularly in the case of an obstructed or twisted intestine; both life-threatening conditions if not treated properly and quickly enough.


Prebiotics like ProBi -- or a probiotic like Hilton Herb Digest Plus – can be fed regularly to the horse to maintain a healthy digestive tract by encouraging good digestion and gut mobility. When these good bugs are administered consistently and regularly, they have been proven to be very helpful in keeping colic in horses in check.


Simple preventative measures you can take immediately to help your equines from getting colic include:


» Where horses are zero-grazed and are always in their stables, it is important to make sure their feed and any food supplements promote optimal equine digestive health.

» Avoid overgrazing pastures and paddocks (your horse will be less likely to ingest sand which can lead to intestinal obstructions or blockages).

» Provide a consistent and easy access to an abundance of clean water; this is critical to helping your equine effectively dilute and properly digest what they eat and subsequently avoid potentially dangerous intestinal blockages.

» Include consistent and adequate long-stem roughage in your horse’s daily diet. Make use of slow feed hay bags so the roughage intake is spread over the whole day.

» Ensure that your horse is treated with a regular and proper deworming program and that you check the fecal egg count several times a year.


Integrative Medicine


Not all animals can use all natural remedies; allergic reactions to oils
and/or herbs and digestive problems are possible.
A natural remedy is not a substitute for veterinary care.


The following nutraceuticals or natural/herbal formulas can also provide effective preventative treatment for your equines against colic.


» Blue-green algae (or spirulina): A recommended supplement additive for your horse’s feed particularly if there is a scarcity of grass for them to graze on. This supplement will provide extra vitamin B12 in your equine’s daily feed and especially help equines that do not have access to constant and sustainable pasture.

» Herbal digestive aids:

» Dandelion: Aids in better digestive conditions; grow your own and give your horse a few fresh leaves every day.

» Peppermint/Spearmint: Relaxes the digestive tract muscles; grown your own and give your horse some fresh leaves every day.

» Burdock: Stimulates digestion; use only the powdered form.

» Fenugreek: Helps ease digestive problems; give one cup of the dried herb. NOTE: Do not give to pregnant mares because it stimulates the uterus.

» Garlic: Promotes healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.               

» Probiotics: These live beneficial bacteria help the digestive tract achieve an optimal healthy state.

» Rescue remedy, sweet chestnut, and water violet are flower remedies for horse colic that assist on an emotional level. You can put the essences on their lips or rubbing it on their ears.


– Equine Products –

(Reference: Veterinarians’ Desk Reference)

(Live Link)






2 scoops bid

Enhances the immune system in the gut, supplies bioactive proteins, immunoglobulins and peptides.

Digestive Tonic14

4 tsp bid

Helps restore normal digestive function; spleen tonic to clear Damp.

Hilton Digest Support2

2-4 scoops bid

Herbs that support intestinal wall healing.

Hilton Digest Plus2

1-2 scoops sid

Provides beneficial gut bacteria to repopulate the intestinal flora.

L-GlutamineVET Powder12

3-7 scoops sid

Main fuel for enterocytes.

Bacillus CoagulansVET12

4-8 capsules sid

Beneficial gut bacteria.


6-10 mL sid

Adaptogenic herbs, support the immune system, adrenals, reduces stress.


5 mL bid

Corrects pH balance favoring beneficial bacteria.


To help you quickly find the right Integrative Medicine formulas and manufacturers to help treat your dogs, cats and horses, please refer to the Veterinarians’ Desk Reference
(Click Here)


(Always consult with your veterinarian to properly diagnose any health problems. Misdiagnosis and/or mistreatment -- including OTC and/or homeopathic products -- can lead to dangerous complications.)March 2011



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