Although everyone knows about colic, there are many misunderstandings and myths around it. Even the meaning of the word “colic” can be confusing for many people. So let’s see these myths….
Colic is the number one cause of death in horses, excluding old age. The good news is that the vast majority of cases are mild and resolved with medical care.
- Colic is a disease. The word “colic” is a vague term that indicates clinical signs of abdominal pain. It is not a specific disease but rather a combination of signs the horse typically shows with abdominal pain (for the most common clinical signs please look at our other post). Colic like symptoms also can be the result of some severe respiratory or neurologic disease as well.
- If you let your colic horse roll it will have its gut twisted. That is just the other way round! Healthy horses love to lie down and roll happily scratching and rubbing their body in the sand or on the grass. Rolling is usually put in the category of self-grooming or comfort behavior. Have you ever seen a horse develop a twisted intestine afterwards? No! The pain that occurs from a twisted intestine is extreme, so horses will lie down and roll because they are trying to find a way to get comfortable and trying to get away from the pain. Simply rolling is not a problem but we do not like colicky horses rolling with gas filled and impacted intestines and possibly causing themselves more damage with traumatizing.
- My horse had renal (urinary tract) colic because once it got some painkiller it urinated and the colic was gone. One of the typical signs of abdominal pain is the frequent attempts to urinate and this has nothing to do with the urinary system by itself. Renal colic is quite rare in horses. During severe abdominal pain the muscles of the urinary tract can get contract and once the analgesics decreases the pain originating from the intestines, this will also cause the release of these muscles as well, and as a result some horses will urinate. Unfortunately, it does not mean that the underlying gastrointestinal cause has been resolved.
- If the horse has passed manure the colic problem has been resolved. It is not always the case. The horse can empty the feces from the most caudal part of the intestine even if the other more orally located parts are still obstructed.
- Enema always helps. Not true. And in some cases it can be even dangerous as well. You can only flush the most caudal part of the intestines (imagine that the horse intestinal tract is approx.. 30 m in length) and it is useful only in some cases of small intestinal impactions close to the anus.