Today I write with a heavy heart as my little quarter horse mare Chilli, lost her battle with gastric distension colic.
Gastric distension¬†colic also known as grain engorgement or stomach distension, and is life threatening. So I want to share with you the specific horse colic symptoms you need to know if you are faced with gastric distension, and in this case it was due to consumption of excess raw barely grain.
How did this tragedy happen so quickly? Well, simply a person with good intentions fed barley to my sheep, except the grain was distributed right along side the fence line, and without my knowledge. Unfortunately my horse Chilli could reach the barley by putting her head over the fence and gorged herself on the grain. It happened that easily.
Horse colic symptoms you need to know
The best thing you can do for your horse once you suspect they have colic is to be extra observant, as these health changes for better or worse, can be crucial towards your horses treatment and recovery. You are normally the best person to observe the behaviour, as you understand your horses normal behaviour and will instantly know as if by instinct when your horse is acting outside of his normal character.
Following is a general list of horse colic symptoms that range from mild to severe, and it’s worth keeping in mind that mild cases of colic can increase in pain severity and become severe symptoms. The reason horses show these symptoms when experiencing colic is because the horse is trying to relieve the pain in their gut any way they can.
If during a bout of colic and your horses symptoms worsen, then contact your vet immediately. Remember to act quickly with colic and call your vet whilst your horse is experiencing mild signs for the best outcome. The good news is generally most types of colic are treatable.
Mild signs of colic
- Pawing the ground
- Awkward stretching
- Shivering with pain
- Moving reluctantly
- Laying down and getting up repeatedly
- Standing as if to urinate
- Laying down more than usual
- Hanging head low to the ground
- Turning to look at their tummy
- Kicking at their stomach
- Not interested in food or water
- Unusual behaviour or signs unusual to your horses normal character
Signs of severe colic
- Sitting like a dog
- laying on their back
- Red coloured gums
- High heart rate
- Groaning and pawing the ground
- Gurgling noises from nostrils
- Lifting up their top lip often
If you notice a horse displaying any one of these signs, observe the horse closely and monitor it for other indicators, if colic is suspected contact your vet immediately.
Feed that can lead to colic in horses
- Mouldy hay
- Straight grain – barley is the worst offender
- Sudden change from one feed to another
- Lawn clippings
- Over feeding proteins, grains or lush grass
It is important to note that other factors can lead to colic such as heavy worm infestations, teeth problems, change in stable bedding, change in your horses exercise level, poor or irregular water quality, sudden change in weather conditions, inconsistent feeding methods and of course rapid change of diet.
The horse is an amazing animal, but unfortunately it has a poorly designed digestive system, also know and the gut. The good thing is that most horse colic can be treated relatively easily and generally with a good outcome, however in some severe cases horses will die from colic. The message is to act early when signs of colic occur in your horse, and this gives them the best change for a full recovery.
Vet Dr Steve Allday explains Horse Colic
How you can help your vet!
In cases of colic in horses which are grain related, as I am speaking about from personal experience, I cannot stress strongly enough for you to contact your vet immediately if you suspect this has happened to your horse.
When I first contacted the vet, I rang up and said my horse has colic, now think for a second about what I said. How many times in a year would a vet hear the words, my horse has colic? If you answered lots, then you are correct. It is really important to give your vet the best detailed description of your horses symptoms. If you don’t the vet will not be able to rate the real level of your emergency. Vets need to be able to prioritise call outs, as they are normally very busy through out the day.
Some good observations
- Check the colour of your horses gums, are they normal for your horse? Paler or darker than normal?
Why you might ask? This is important for the vet to know as the more detailed description of the gum colour you are seeing, will help¬† your vet see the health of your horse over the phone.
- Has you horse passed a bowel movement? if so describe exactly what you have seen, the colour, texture, is it solid or runny?
- How much water has your horse drunk?
- Do you know what your horses heart rate is?
- What is your horses pain level?
Colic danger signs – call vet immediately!
- Lack of elasticity in the skin – a sign of dehydration
- No bowel movements
- Constant swelling of the abdomen
- High heart rate, that sounds like the gut noises
- Horse is showing further discomfort aggravated by increased pain
- Unpleasant coloured discharge coming from horses nose
- A sudden change in noises coming from the horse
If you are in doubt at any stage whist your horse has colic, make a phone call to your vet with the specific symptoms, the more observant you are the better the vet can help you. It is very important to contact the vet if you horses abdomen is constantly swelling and the horse is not producing any bowel movements, these changes in horse colic symptoms can occur rapidly, and euthanasia will need to be considered if the horse has no chance of recovery. You will need to act quickly for your horses sake. When a horse cannot be saved, its important to get the vet there ASAP as the horses stomach will rupture due to the build up of excessive gases. Euthanase before this point, if you can.
I had an exceptional country vet visit Chilli on three occasions over a 5 hour period, and the last time was to euthanise her.
Keeping horses away from access to self service grain is of course the best solution as in my case, yet sometimes accidents happen.
I wish you the best with your horse care and your horses health. Let me know if this information has helped you in any way, as I am sharing my experience so someone else can possibly avoid this situation from happening to them.
Horse Care Enthusiast