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Horse Colic, Signs, Symptoms and How to Treat It

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Ms. Millar has been an online writer for over eight years. She is well-versed in website development and has created several websites.

What Causes Colic? - "Human Error"

There is a parallel article I have written coming from the perspective of the horse owner that rarely, or never, worms their horse.

This particular article is written with the assumption that a worming schedule is adhered to on a regular basis. With that in mind, the most common cause of colic for a horse wormed on a regular schedule is; dirt and sand picked up while eating, which, in turn, blocks the flow of the intestinal system. When horses eat, they are like a vacuum, sucking up every last bit of hay as well as the dirt it sits in.

The best way to protect a horse is to use a feeder bucket that hangs on the fence, wall or bar. Or a barrel cut in half and set on the ground.

The other main cause of colic can be their feed. Whether it be a change in feed, or over feeding, it doesn't really matter; either one can set a horse up for colic.

To protect your horse from "feed" colic, don't make abrupt feed changes. Their system becomes accustomed to digesting a particular type of hay or alfalfa, don't switch to pellets then back to hay suddenly. Make it a gradual change; over a period of one week should be fine. Not all horses colic from a feed change but some horses are more sensitive than others, so don't chance it.

Over feeding, well, this can be cured by......not over feeding. Horses will eat as long as there is food there. The evolution of horses is a grazing, range animal. Since horses are, now, for the most part, prisoners of mankind, they no longer have to walk miles and miles for grazing. They just stand in one spot and the food is brought to them. So feed them accordingly. The chart below gives a rough idea of how much to feed a horse on a daily basis.

The Mystery of Caring for Your Horse - Solved! is a helpful handbook if you are not sure how or what to feed your horse. There's a break down of feed content, a worming schedule, what type of wormer to use, and a lot more helpful information.

Approximate Feeding Guide for Horses and Ponies

For an more accurate amount to feed a horse multiply the horses weight by 2%.

Weight of EquineAmount of Feed

2,000 lbs

2.5 - 3 flakes, 2x's a day

1,500 - 1,999 lbs

2 - 2.5 flakes 2x's a day

1,000 - 1,499 lbs

1.5 - 2 flakes 2x's a day

500 - 999 lbs

1 - 1.5 flakes 2x's a day

500 lbs (ponies & mini's)

.5 - 1 flake 2x's a day

Pregnant mares

Feed by weight + a good supplement

Determine How Much to Feed With the 2% Method

Determine how much the horse weighs using a weight tape or whatever other means you employ to determine it. Take that number and multiply it by 2%. This is the amount to feed. See table above.

WeightAmount of FeedAnimal

300 lbs x 2%

6 lbs

Small Pony

400 lbs x 2%

8 lbs


500 lbs x 2%

10 lbs

Large Pony

800 lbs x 2%

16 lbs

Small Horse

1000 lbs x 2%

20 lbs


1150 lbs x 2%

23 lbs

Large/Tall Horse

1200 lbs x 2%

24 lbs

Large(Usually) Gelding or Stud

1250 lbs x 2%

25 lbs

Small Draft

Horses Cannot Vomit

Horse colic is dangerous, it can mean life, or death, of your horse, if you don't know what to do. Here I will show, tell and video, exactly what you need to do to save your horses life!

Colic is like the stomach flu in humans. It's terribly painful. The problem with horses is that they do not have the ability to vomit. When humans, or just about any mammal, has an upset stomach, like a stomach flu, we vomit. This expels the contaminate, poison or object obstructing and upsetting our stomach. A horse cannot vomit. The pain becomes so severe that they will lie down, even when it's raining outside.

Horses don't normally lay down in the rain, not even horses that enjoy rain, they just don't. When a horse colic's they will lie down anywhere, in the rain, in a tight stall, on rocks, anywhere. When a horse lays down, with their stomach upset, and writhing, their intestines become twisted or telescope upon themselves, causing a horrible death.

Below is a chart of the signs a horse is starting to colic and the signs of full blown colic:

Signs Your Horse Has Colic

The above signs of colic are in order of severity.

SignsExplanationWhat to Do

Food Refusal/Not Hungry

The horse is beginning to feel the onset of colic.

Colic is just setting in. Put the horses halter on and walk him/her.

Food Refusal & Twisiting His/Her Head Back to Look at Stomach and/or Nip at Stomach

The horse is looking to see what is hurting him/her. Nipping at the unseen pain

Put the horses halter on and start walking. He/she is going to lie down if you don't. Consider medicating with Pepto Bismol.

Lying Down

All horses lie down but when they lay down ALL THE WAY this means trouble.

The horse is colicking. Medicate with Pepto Bismol or better yet, Banamine.

Lying Down Rolling/Making Odd Noises/Thrashing About

The horse is in the full throes of colic

This is an emergency situation. Get the horse up and call the equine veternarian. Death is close at hand!

Atlas Refuses Her Apple - Sign of Colic

Banamine - Colic medication

Banamine - Colic medication

When the horse has laid down or is about to lay down, you must get him/her up because the intestines are upset and they will telescope upon each other or twist into a knot.

If you just notice the horse is down, but don't know how long or if it had its head down (a telltale sign of colic they will put their head onto the ground) look closely at the side of their head. If the horse had its head on the ground it will have signs of dust or hay on the side of its head near the jaw or on the temple.

Give the horse either Pepto Bismol, this can be purchased at the local drug store or supermarket or, better yet, Banamine, prescribed by a veterinarian.

Scroll to Continue

Medicate the Colicing Horse with Pepto Bismol or Banamine

Years ago I had a horse colic and she refused to get up. I knew she was in pain, but I also knew I had to get her up or she would die. When your horse colic's it can be very emotional, but you need to focus and take steps to stop it.

I tapped her thigh and rump area (you don't need to beat the day lights out of the horse that refuses to get up!!). As I tapped her hind end, my kids jumped up and down shouting trying to activate her natural instinct of "fight or flight". And a friend pulled on the lead line gently but firmly, it worked!! She got up and we were able to walk her and save her life! We walked her until dawn.

You need to walk, walk, walk and walk some more. You're looking for the horses intestines to start moving. A sight the bowels are moving will be gas or a bowel movement. A bowel movement is really what you want.

When the horse moves its bowels you'll want to test it. You do this by collecting a few of the "biscuits" and put them in a bucket or glove, add water and swirl it around until dissolved. Once dissolved, pour off the excess water and see what you have left in the bucket or glove. Gravel or rocks means the horse has "sand" colic. Undigested hay and a lot of it, means "hay" or "feed" colic.

See video below:

When the Horse Does Have a Bowel Movement, CHECK IT! Here's How.

You need to call an equine veterinarian out immediately if the horse is writhing. He/she needs to be put out of its misery.

If you catch the horse in colic early your chances of saving its life are really good. If you don't notice until the horse is down and writhing on the ground your chances are poor.

If you did catch it early and act on it right away, the horse will be up and eating in no time at all!! Its up to your watchful eye and perseverance to save your horses life. More often than not, colic is caused by human error (see paragraph above "human error").

Authors similar horse info's & articles:


Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on January 17, 2018:

I came upon "cell" years ago when I worked on a boarding farm. The horses in the 10 x 20 paddocks, in the barn, never got out, ever. Their owners simply never came to see them. I was not allowed to let them out, they were owned by important people. Pa-lease, important people. Thank you for coming by BellatheBall!

BellatheBall on January 14, 2018:

I would recommend any horse owner (or even would be owner) print this chart and keep it in the Barn!

Easy reference and it could save a life!

BellatheBall on January 12, 2018:

Thanks Joanna! However, I think calling a paddock (or coral, in Western terms) a "cell" is a little extreme, but it does point out that Horses can and do suffer medical conditions that can be fatal from neglect.

This happens over time. My point was to walk the Horse out of the box stall every day, but leaving the horse in a paddock or coral can be just as dangerous to their health!

Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on January 12, 2018:

Thank you for reading BellatheBall. You made a good point, and brought up a very sad, yet all too often situation, horses in a paddocks. It is just terribly sad that paddocks exist. They should be outlawed! Horses are free range roamers. It is just sad that people put horses in these 10 x 20 prison cells and then claim "It's a nice place/stall/paddock." It's a prison CELL.

BellatheBall on January 10, 2018:

Very important article and most people, even horse owners, do not realize that horses cannot vomit! This is why it is important to walk your horse(s) every day and not let them stay cooped up on a stall!

Even if it is a nice box stall. A bored horse can start to eat wood, or bedding or even sand! (This is called cribbing). This too can lead to colic, not just parasites.

Michelle from Central Oregon on November 10, 2013:

Great article! I would like to mention the importance of NOT giving Banamine if your horse is not drinking!!


Joanna (author) from Wilseyville on September 07, 2012:

Thank you so much Phil Plasma! I was able to provide such detailed information because I filmed it as it was happening, ya know. A real life scenario is better than any memory recall.

Thanks again!

Phil Plasma from Montreal, Quebec on September 06, 2012:

Being a suburbanite my interaction with horses is pretty much zero. However, that doesn't stop me from telling you this is a terrific article to help people recognize horse colic early, and tips on what to do about it. Hopefully the right people will find this hub, and better still, as a result of it, a horse will be saved. Voted up, useful and awesome.

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