Colic: collective term for belly ache

Foto: IStock/Christina Prinn

What exactly is colic? Colic is a collective term for all conditions that cause pain in the region of the belly. Usually this pain originates in the gastrointestinal tract but it can also come from elsewhere. Think for instance of a twist in the uterus of a pregnant mare or a big lump in another organ which causes pressure in the belly.

Friesian horses are a bit tougher on themselves

The signs shown by the horse may vary considerably between individuals because some horses are tougher for themselves than others. The symptoms may be as diverse as being a bit sluggish or losing appetite, sometimes flehming (curling back of upper lip), or real anxiety expressed by clawing and pawing, lying down or rolling over the back. Especially with Friesian horses, who are known to be a bit tougher on themselves, these last symptoms are quite alarming signs.

Intestinal parts displaced by gases

Because the bowels of a horse are, for the most part, loosely positioned in the stomach they are much more prone to becoming displaced or even squashed as compared to other animal species. Additional fact is that horses can digest many different types of feed but as a result of sudden changes in feeds, like for example introducing horses to grazing at the start of the season, the gut flora in the large intestines can produce an overproduction of gases. Gases in itself can cause colic but gases can also trigger displacement or floating of intestinal parts in the stomach exactly because they are for the main part loosely situated in the abdomen. Another reason why equines are more prone to colic than other animal species is their inability to vomit, their relatively small stomach and a number of naturally narrow passages in their bowels where food can easily pile up.

Coca Cola against colon impaction

Another frequent problem in Friesian horses though not an actual form of colic, is a problem in the digestive tract whereby the motility of the oesophagus is disrupted, which means they suffer more often from esophageal blockages and prolapses (sagging) than is known in other horse breeds. Also interesting to know is the commonly-known solution for colon impaction (basically a solid football in the stomach) mostly seen in Friesian horses, which is to pour down Coca Cola into the stomach!