Colic: What Should I Do Until the Vet Gets Here?

Colic: What Should I Do Until the Vet Gets Here?

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q. If my horse is colicking, what should I do until the vet gets here? I’ve heard I should walk my horse or put him in the trailer to encourage him to poop. Are these good ideas?

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A. It is always a scary time to discover your own horse showing signs of colic. Fortunately, the majority of colic episodes are mild and will resolve with treatment by your veterinarian at home.

My recommendation for what to do before the vet arrives depends somewhat on the severity of the colic signs, but generally speaking, keeping your horse up and preventing him from rolling is a good idea. 

If your horse seems more comfortable walking, then continue to walk him until the vet arrives. Walking will promote gastrointestinal motility more than standing in a stall. Milder forms of colic that respond well to walking also might benefit from a bumpy ride in the trailer. A simple gas colic or simple impaction might respond to this type of light physical activity, as it stimulates motility.

If you are unable to keep your horse standing and do not have a means of sedating him, your own safety should be first priority, and it might be best to keep the horse confined to a stall until the vet arrives. 

A common question that owners ask is “Is it okay to give my horse Banamine (flunixin meglumine) to control the pain?” The answer to that question should be dictated by your veterinarian at the time of the initial call, because he or she hopefully will be familiar with your horse. As you describe the signs your horse is displaying as well as the duration of pain, your veterinarian can make an informed decision. The problem with blanket administration of Banamine to all colics is it has toxic effects on both the kidneys and gut that are exacerbated in a state of dehydration. Since colicky horses rarely drink normally, dehydration is quite common. Ideally, a physical exam by your veterinarian should be performed prior to administering Banamine.

If available, sedation of more severe colics with an alpha-2 agonist such as xylazine would be a safer choice and will provide a rapid onset of pain relief with a short duration. It is most effective when administered intravenously or intramuscularly however, so the knowledge of how to administer drugs is an essential first step.

Lastly, you will want to withhold your horse from eating until he or she has been evaluated by your veterinarian and you’re given the okay for your horse to begin eating again. A gradual reintroduction to food after a period of fasting will go a long way to help prevent recurrence of the signs of abdominal pain.

About the Author

Diana Hassel, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC

Diana Hassel, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, is an associate professor of equine emergency surgery and critical care medicine at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She’s a graduate of the University of California, Davis, and has specialized in equine colic both in clinical practice and in research for the past 17 years.

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