What Do I Do If My Horse Colics?

Girl petting horse

Steven Ritzer/Getty Images

Colic isn’t usually a ‘wait and see’ situation. Prompt attention and treatment are essential. A colic case might be mild and pass on its own, but some cases can be indicative of a more serious problem that will need veterinary care. This article would suggest how you can tackle most cases of colic. However, if your horse is in distress, perhaps rolling and thrashing, or visibly in pain, your first step should be to call your veterinarian.


Assess the severity of the colic. If your horse has mild colic, perhaps looks uncomfortable, is biting at his flanks and stands stretched, watch and see if the colic abates after about 30 minutes. Observe whether the horse has passed any stool or shows signs of diarrhea. Also look for signs such as crushed bedding, which may indicate that the horse has been trying to roll in his stall. Look for signs of sweating, shaking, or any other unusual behavior. Once you’ve determined the severity of the colic, remove all edibles (including bedding) from the stall. It is usually okay to leave water, although it’s unlikely a sick horse will drink anyway.

Try Motion

As long as the horse is calm, you could try doing ‘belly lifts’ and hand walking or lunging. A few minutes of trotting may help, but only for a few minutes. Don’t tire him out. If he starts to feel better, offer a tiny bit of food. If he eats, he may be over his bout, but keep a close eye on him for several hours afterward. If your horse is back to normal, it should be producing a reasonable amount of stool within a short time. 

Some colic cases can be cured by taking your horse for a trailer ride. Mild impaction colic or gassiness can be relieved by bouncing around a bit. The motion helps the horse produce manure and expel gas. For a mild colic, this might help. Again, it's important to avoid stressing your horse. 

After 30 Minutes

If mild colic symptoms haven’t abated after about 30 minutes, call your veterinarian. Write down any changes in feed, any drugs, or dewormers administered, changes in routine, or anything else that you can remember that might have triggered the colic episode. Take note of the amount of stool the horse has produced and its consistency. Is it runny, or very dry—anything out of the ordinary is important to note. This may make it easier to diagnose the cause of the colic and expedite treatment. If your horse seems shaky but isn't rolling violently, drape him with warm blankets. Horses that roll in blankets can get caught in the straps. A horse that rolls in its stall is in danger of being cast (or effectively stuck) against a wall.

Safety First

If the horse is thrashing violently look out for your own safety first. Your instincts will be to try to calm your horse, but a horse in extreme pain can be oblivious to everything—even a familiar and respected handler. Call the veterinarian immediately.

It has long been thought that rolling and thrashing violently may cause a twisted gut. But whether this is true or not has not been established. Try to keep your horse on his feet. Traditional colic care included walking your horse, but if he is already tired from thrashing and rolling, walking may only add to his fatigue. Your horse will be okay standing, or just lying still for a short time. It may be nearly impossible (and dangerous) to stop a horse from rolling. If possible to do so safely, move him to a place where he is less likely to hurt himself or get cast, if possible.

Use Medications With Caution

If you keep prescription drugs like muscle relaxants in your first aid box, use them with extreme caution, and only after consulting the vet (e.g. over the phone while awaiting their arrival). Treating a horse incorrectly may cause more harm than good. With colic caused by a twisted or telescoped gut, a speedy diagnosis is imperative. Don’t give your horse anything that may mask symptoms, and closely follow your vet's advice.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.