Written by Dr. Sharnai Thompson
2021-2022 Peterson Smith Equine Hospital + Complete Care Ambulatory Intern
At least half of the calls for most ambulatory equine veterinarians are colic-related. There are many great articles and resources about treating colic in the field, and the below tips are intended as a guide for what you can do as an owner, though you should consult your veterinarian for a plan specific to your horse. The good news is that most medical, and even surgical, cases of colic have a very good to excellent prognosis if immediate and appropriate treatment is received.
Colics do not discriminate – they can happen at any time and at any age for any reason. The severity of clinical signs that may be exhibited very greatly, so the best thing to do is to be prepared.
- Have Banamine/Flunixin on hand. It is inexpensive and easy to administer, and is extremely effective in most (up to 70%) of cases.
- How do you give it? For the injectable form of Banamine (clear liquid) you will need a syringe and needle to pull it from the bottle. The typical amount is ~10mL for a 1,000lb horse and this can be given IV or orally. Never give Banamine IM.
- What if my Banamine is expired? This is a common question, and a scenario that should be discussed with your veterinarian.
- What if it doesn’t help? Response to pain medication is often used as a diagnostic tool by veterinarians, so if your horse does not improve within 30-45 minutes of administration, your veterinarian needs to know that. Do not give more medication.
- Discuss a colic scenario with your regular veterinarian. As vets, we love this question because it means you are taking proactive steps. Some vets will advise giving Banamine before calling and others prefer the opposite, so it is best to to have a plan in place with your veterinarian. Some vets will also recommend other medications to have on hand, depending on your comfort level in administering the medications. In addition, your veterinarian may even show you how to assess some early clinical signs of colic.
- Think about transportation. Have your truck and trailer hooked up and ready to go if your veterinarian recommends further management be done in a clinical setting. If you do not own a truck and trailer, call a friend with one, or have multiple contacts for horse transporters in the area. Sometimes a trailer ride can help to alleviate clinical signs, especially with gas (spasmodic) colic.
What to do when it happens.
- Call early on in the process. It is a good idea to notify your veterinarian in the early stages of colic, rather than waiting until there is an emergency. If your veterinarian is already in your area they may be available to come check your horse. This is especially true with large practices like Peterson Smith. However, keep in mind that your veterinarian may not be immediately available. Prepare to answer the following questions when speaking with your veterinarian:
- What signs are you seeing? How long have they been going on?
- How old is your horse?
- Are you able to get a temperature, heart rate, and/or respiratory rate?
- Have you given any medications? Did they appear to help?
- What is the horse’s water intake?
- What is the horse’s manure output?
- Is the horse insured?
- Is going into the clinic for management an option?
- Banamine. Most veterinarians will recommend giving Banamine.
- Walking can help, but it is unproven. Walk your horse if it appears to make them feel better. Stop if it seems to make them worse, or you detect other signs of pain.
- Plan to bring the horse inside and pull feed. If you are able, have your horse in a fresh, clean stall with no hay or grain, but at least one bucket of clean water. Keeping your horse drinking is key during early stage colic, and not drinking could be a factor causing the colic. Another option is to have a bucket of “sweet tea” – a full bucket of water with one handful of sweet feed, or a small amount of molasses, to encourage drinking. Your horse may or may not like it, so always have a clean bucket of water as well, just in case. It is important to monitor water intake and manure output and relay that information to your veterinarian.
- *Disclaimer: There is some debate on whether you should withhold water as well until examined by your veterinarian. If the stomach is already distended, allowing the horse to drink could cause the stomach to rupture. Consult with your veterinarian to decide a best plan of action.
- Listen to your veterinarian. Veterinarians have been treating colics for a long time and, as research evolves, many things change. It is our job as veterinarians to keep up with the latest science and it apply it accordingly. Be mindful of these changes and never hesitate to ask questions during treatment.
- Geographic instructions – Provide your vet with an address and clear instruction on how to access your horse. Is there a gate? Make sure you have communicated a gate code if needed, or better yet, have it open for the veterinarian. Some veterinarians prefer to have any information texted so it can be recalled if needed. Pictures can be very helpful.
- Be adapatable. No two cases of colic are the same. Though your vet may have treated a similar colic, there is always a chance that plans may change. Most of the time, change is not indication to panic, or a reflection on the quality of your vet – sometimes plans must change in the best interest of your horse. It is important to listen to your veterinary team, especially when decisions need to be made quickly and under pressure. We all have the same goal of making your horse feel better.
In an effort to assist our clients in exploring options that help alleviate the costs associated with colic surgery, we have created a packet that outlines four popular colic coverage programs. Read more on our blog.