Are There Different Types of Colic?

Colic strikes fear in the heart of any and all horse owners. It is an unfortunate reality we must face when caring for these animals. The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) survey estimates that for every 100 horses, there will be 4.2 colic events each year. 1.2% of those cases will require surgery and a staggering 11% of them will be fatal. Colic can present as a result of many causes, but it is largely caused by the unnatural things we ask of these foragers such as staying inside, eating large amounts of high-sugar grain at once, strenuous activity, stress, and more.


Gas or Spasmodic Colic

An over-fermentation of food in the hindgut can build up and produce an excess of fluids or gas in a horse. This pressure along the gastrointestinal line causes varying degrees of discomfort for the horse. Caretakers can spot this after noticing a horse who is passing gas more frequently than normal and who may appear lightly agitated.


Impaction Colic

A long-term accumulation of sand, dirt, feed, or indigestible material has blocked a horse’s colon which makes it painful or impossible for them to properly dispose of fecal matter. This is why caretakers should monitor how often a horse is defecating on a regular basis.


Intussusception Colic

This dangerous form of colic is most often caused by tapeworms or other parasites. Essentially a part of the horse’s intestine will slide into itself like a telescope which can lead to a blockage of important blood supply.


Gastric Rupture

While very rare, this type of colic presents when an impaction reaches a horse’s stomach or if gas build-up causes the horse’s stomach to dilate.


Displacement or Entrapment Colic

This uncommon type of colic results when a part of the intestinal tract moves to a different portion of the abdominal cavity. If it cannot freely move back to the original location, it becomes an entrapment. New locations can often cause very serious damage to the natural blood supply of the intestine as a result of it being compressed or stretched.


Strangulation or Torsion Colic

This is the most lethal form of colic and thus the most terrifying. Basically, part of the horse’s colon or small intestine can twist and cut off the blood supply completely leading to extremely dangerous necrotic (dead) tissue.


Symptoms of Equine Colic

If caught early, colic can often be treated easily and noninvasively. Some behaviors to look out for if you suspect your horse might be colicing include:

  • Pawing at the ground
  • Looking at their flank
  • Kicking or biting at their flank
  • Repeatedly lying down and getting back up
  • Tail swishing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Lying on their back
  • Stretching out their stomach while standing
  • Curling their upper lip
  • Excessive rolling
  • Violently throwing themselves on the ground
  • No interest in food
  • Increased respiration
  • Dullness
  • Agitation
  • Slowed water intake


Preventative Management

The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends the following to effectively prevent colic in your horse:

  • Feed at least 60 percent of the daily ration as forage (hay or pasture)
  • When possible, pasture in non-irrigated fields and/or use a grazing muzzle to control weight and intake of rich forage
  • Limit grain to as little as possible – none is preferable
  • Substitute high-fat feeds and high-fiber feed for grain supplements when more calories are needed
  • Provide feeding systems that limit the intake of sand and dirt
  • Provide plenty of turnout and exercise each day
  • Provide clean, ice-free drinking water
  • Implement regular and frequent deworming programs for the herd
  • Implement a herd health program of preventive care
  • Minimize stress (transport, herd dynamics, housing, illness, injury) as much as possible

If you own a horse who has had colic surgery or a history of colic in the past, we recommend monitoring them with a NIGHTWATCH® Smart Halter™. This technology uses a variety of sensors to collect real-time data on your horse’s vital signs and behavior, while software analyzes this data and calculates a wellness score on a 10-point scale (the Equine Distress Index®). When a threshold you define is breached, your horse’s smart halter will alert you via text, call, and/or email so you can get to their stall quickly. Order yours today at!