An Update On Equine Colic

Colic has long been an equine ailment that can have tragic consequences for the horse if not addressed in a timely manner. Based on reports over the last 50 years, colic has not changed much; in a normal equine population, there are between 1 and 10 colic episodes per 100 horses each year. However, horses that have had colic episodes in the past are up to 5 times more likely to have a colic episode again.

As colic is a broad term that encompasses many kinds of abdominal pain, survival rates depend on the severity of the disease. However, overall mortality rates for all colic is about 7 to 10 percent. This places colic second in fatalities only to musculoskeletal injuries.

Colic can happen in any horse, but it occurs more frequently in specific populations of horses, including horses with small stronglye infections, those who have had abrupt changes in management and in broodmares close to foaling. Additionally, horses that have gone under general anesthesia also have an increased incidence of colic.

The cause of colic is often elusive, but “simple colic” or “gas colic” makes up about 85 percent of all colic episodes, though the exact cause of the colic is often unknown. More-serious cases of colic, like intestinal strangulation, also have no known cause, though research has identified risk factors. These colics have a much higher morbidity and mortality rate.

The alteration of intestine function is most likely multi-faceted, with environmental factors adding to the risk. Some of these factors may include

  • Increased time spent in a stall
  • Older age
  • Inactivity due to an injury
  • Transport
  • Diet change
  • Lack of deworming regimen
  • Lack of quality dental care

Though survival rates for colic has increased, it can still be a deadly disease, so care must be taken to identify and act quickly.

Read more about colic updates at Equine Disease Quarterly.

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