09: Recognizing the Signs of Colic

Action Point: Make sure everyone involved in the care and management of the horses is familiar with signs of colic and what to do when they are observed.  

Rationale: Signs of colic can range from subtle to obvious and it is important for everyone involved in the care and handling of horses to be aware of them. Early detection and immediate veterinarian attention is important to distinguish between medical cases, which make up about 90% of incidences, and surgical, which can be fatal if not attended to soon enough.


  • Flank watching (turning head toward flank)
  • Pawing
  • Kicking at or biting belly
  • Stretching out as if to urinate
  • Repeatedly lying down and getting up or attempting to do so
  • Rolling repeatedly
  • Sitting in a dog-like position or lying on the back
  • Holding rotated to one side with an outstretched neck
  • Not completely a meal or showing complete disinterest in food
  • Lowering the head toward water without drinking
  • Reduced or absent gut sounds
  • Inappropriate sweating
  • Rapid breathing and/or flared nostrils
  • Elevated pulse rate >50 beats per minute
  • Depression
  • Lip curling

What to do:

  1. If colic is suspected, immediately call the veterinarian
  2. Remove all food but make sure the horse has access to water
  3. Keep a close watch on the horse to observe signs and changes in behaviour
  4. If the horse is continually rolling or thrashing, it is advisable to walk it if it is safe to do so. If the horse is resting quietly, leave it be
Colic: Minimizing its Incidence and Impact in your Horse

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