Horse Colic – Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Horse colic is a dreaded disorder that no doubt we all have experience of in one way or another.

We’re sharing insights on how to spot symptoms, understand what may have caused it and things that will help your horse feel better as soon as possible!

In this blog we’re concentrating on three main types of colic; Spasmodic, Impaction and Twisted Gut.

Colic in Horses

Spasmodic Horse Colic

Defined to be one of the most common and painful forms of colic, Spasmodic Colic triggers powerful bowel contractions caused by an over active gastrointestinal tract.


● Pawing the ground and curling the top line

● Positioned as though straining to urinate

● Flank watching

● Lying quietly

● Dullness

● Sweaty patches on neck

● Loud rushing noising from horse’s gut

● Horse kicking & rolling around.


More often an issue in nervous, high-strung horses than those of a calmer nature, Spasmodic Colic can be induced by the horse being anxious, frightened, or drinking cold water after a heavy workout.

This type of colic has also been associated with high levels of tapeworms, a specious that develops inside the immediate host after being caught through eating hay or grass that contains mites.

The likelihood of your horse developing Spasmodic Colic will increase if they are fed a rich diet infrequently or change suddenly to rich grass.


In most cases, Spasmodic Colic will resolve itself within a short period of time, however, if ok to do so, walking your horse can help your horse expel excess intestinal gas.

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In more severe cases, a painkiller injection may be prescribed, from which the horse usually responds from a single dose when teamed with physical exercise.

If the condition is reoccurring or your horse is in distress for longer than 30 minutes, it’s recommended to call a vet.

Impaction Horse Colic

A result of the gastrointestinal tract becoming obstructed, or blocked, within the colon, Impaction Colic can cause severe pain within the gut due to the healthy passage of contents from the body being interrupted.


● Passing fewer droppings than usual

● Faecal balls are small, firm and dry

● Quieter than usual

● Refusing to eat

● Pawing the ground

● Kicking at their belly

● Sweating

● Rapid breathing

● Looking around at their flanks

● Lying down and rolling


Alike to that of spasmodic colic, impaction colic can be triggered by a change in management.

Stabling a horse after it living out on grass, a reduction in exercise due to box rest after injury or being provided insufficient fresh water can all contribute to increased risk.

A greedy horse with free access to luxurious pastures, feed rooms or an unlimited supply of straw bedding is more likely to suffer.

Be cautious when bedding your horse on straw, the tendency to eat it may encourage blockage.

Bedding and grazing land play a huge role in this form of colic, access to unsoaked sugar beet and sandy soils are just some examples of things can cause impaction of the colon.


Effectively treating Impaction Colic begins by relieving pain through softening the consistency of the impacted ingesta.

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Usually resolved by veterinary prescribe medicines, a combination of laxatives and water via a nasogastric tube is likely to be administered.

Magnesium sulphate or liquid paraffin is also often used to soften and lubricate faeces, which acts by replacing water back into the gut.

As the owner, providing small meals frequently that are made up of high-quality hay with little grain can help limit the likelihood of Impaction Colic.

Furthermore, supplying fresh, clean water always and using horse salt or electrolytes to encourage water consumption will improve the processing of fed through your horses large and small intestine, team this with routine exercise, deworming and dental maintenance and your set to have your horse in the best of health.

Twisted Gut

A condition in which the intestines twist or become twisted around the tissue that attaches them it the walls of the abdominal cavity, Twisted Gut is often referred to as the most serious type of Colic.


● Signs of shock

● Pawing the ground

● Absence of gut sounds

● Pulse rate rising into the ‘60s

● Dehydration

● Obvious continuous and severe pain

● Blood-stained fluids on paracentesis


Triggered by the intestinal tract not being well anchored inside the abdominal, the large colon may float out of position and become twisted.

It is the tendency for this to cause blood clots that result in intestinal obstructions and to impair and compromise the normal protective barrier function of the large colon, all of which allows large quantities of toxins the pollute the horse’s circulation.

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The potential severity of this colic means it requires veterinary assistance, they will assess your horse’s heart rate, temperature, gut sounds, and gums, as well as further exams and tests if necessary.

Most cases can be resolved in the field, however, when it becomes apparent that quick response is needed to prevent extensive damage to the horse’s system or death, surgery may be required.

As an owner getting a good balance of stable and turnout time is important to reduce the risk of this large colon torsion. Team this with regular dental care, managing horses in small groups and making any changes to diets gradually for the most effective prevention.


Understanding colic is the first step to preventing the disease from affecting your horse’s health seriously. You can take the first steps to prioritize the well being of your four-legged companion by taking on the advice shared here!

Emily Davis works at Cheval Liberte as community manager. Cheval Liberté have been designing, developing and producing stalls, stables and stable equipment since 1995, Driven by their passion for horses, Cheval Liberté was founded by both riders and breeders and since 2005 this passion has been implemented in the UK, with our North Wales company being the sole importers of Cheval Liberté products for distribution and erection throughout the UK & Ireland.

Learn the symptoms, causes and treatment for the three main types of horse colic; Spasmodic, Impaction and Twisted Gut.

1 Comment

  1. Nancy Eldred
    July 18, 2022 / 9:54 pm

    So in the winter no grass just hay you can give a horse grain with hay but in the summer you can not for it could colic. Cause I have one that will even if he gets one to many treats in the summer.

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