Colic Treatments: Myth Or Fact?

Colic is the most common medical condition of the horse, comprising up to 50 percent of the medical cases seen by the equine practitioner. Colic is not a disease; rather, it is a clinical sign of a disease. While the term “colic” generally refers to pain originating from the abdominal tract, other diseases—laminitis, foaling or exertional myopathies, to name a few—can have clinical signs that mimic abdominal pain and prompt calls from worried horse owners.
Colic is one of the most common causes of death in horses, although the prognosis today is far better than it once was. This is largely due to improvements in the way in which we diagnose and treat colic, better anaesthetic drugs and monitoring and improved surgical techniques.
Early diagnosis and surgical treatment of more serious cases of colic remains one of the most important factors in giving horses the best chance of survival following colic surgery.

What should you do if you suspect colic? Colic is a potentially life-threatening disease. If a horse displays moderate or severe symptoms they will need urgent veterinary attention.

The internet has a wide range of concoctions and home remedies on how to treat Colic. Many of these can be extremely harmful to your horse or possibly cause death. Some of our HVC vets have answered your questions in helping you “Bust” if Myth or Fact. Please take Colic serious and call your local veterinarian. Establish a relationship before emergencies happen, so that you may call and ask your veterinarian questions.

………………. Myth Busters …………………………

1) To walk or not to walk ? I’ve always been told to walk and walk, but recently I’ve seen people leave them to do their thing.. which way is the most beneficial ?

Dr. Fernanda Camargo….. You can walk a horse with colic to prevent them from thrashing. But don’t walk him to exhaustion. So walk a little is fine. Walk for miles is not fine.

Dr. Sherri Gard…… Agree with Dr. Camargo I tell them to walk if the horse is trying to go down and thrash…if they lay down quietly, it’s okay. I often see owners “power walking” the horse for hours, and by the time I get to them the poor critter is exhausted. Also, call the dang vet before you walk the horse for 4 hours… However, it is difficult for my owners to understand the difference between colic thrashing and rolling for fun. So, if it’s colic and they are trying to roll, I tell them to walk it.

2) Don’t let the horse roll as it can twist their gut

Dr. Sherri Gard …. This is where I tell people to get the horse up and take them for a stroll. (Although I HAVE heard some doctors tell folks to let the horse roll for a displacement, and they may get themselves right…I DO NOT AGREE, but I’ve heard it!)

Dr. Dina Hartzel Wild…… False. How many horses do you see rolling out in the pasture on a daily basis.

Dr. Karie Vander Werf……. I think having a large impaction in their gut is like a sand bag, and if they roll with the sandbag in there, it can flop over. I’ve had horses in my care be stable, roll, and then blow up in a very short amount of time. Normal every day horses – ok. But with a giant weight in a certain spot, not good IMO.

Dr.Teresa Crocker… Walk if painful or agitated…do not force to walk if depressed, down/not rolling, febrile

3) Give 1 ounce whiskey, 1 ounce mineral oil, 1 ounce pepto bismal. Whiskey to relax the horse, mineral oil to lube the intestines and pepto bismal for upset stomach.

Dr. Sherri Gard…Maybe the whiskey for the owner…but that amount of mineral oil/pepto is nothing.

4) For colic drench them with oil

Dr Sherri Gard….. No to oil. It doesn’t help anything (other than acting as a marker) and can cause more problems (if horse goes to surgery, oil is BIG no-no, also if horse aspirates mineral oil it’s at least pneumonia or as bad as death)

Dr.Teresa Crocker…… Do not drench with oil…never going to get enough down the right tube and might kill or give aspiration pneumonia accidentally

5) Does sand clear really work for sand colic?

Dr. Sherri Gard…..Sand Clear is a “prevention”. If sand is truly casing a “colic” the horse needs quite large doses of it, and also needs veterinary care. I will often tube them with sand clear or metamucil as part of treatment.

Dr. Teresa Crocker…… Sand clear is a prevention…once the horse is sanded…yes it works but must be tubed repeatedly in large volumes daily

6) Don’t feed Coastal hay can cause colic.

Dr. Karie Vander Werf……. It’s the introduction of coastal or a new bale that’s the problem. 1-3 days later —> colic.

Dr. Teresa Crocker ….. If they can’t chew, have a pyloric issue, strictures, or chronic GIT issues…any coarse hay is an issue

Dr. Sherri Gard ….. It can…however on the coast many people are limited in the hay that is available. Many horses that live their lives on the coast tolerate Coastal Hay okay, however horses coming from other areas may not.

7) Treat the front end with green apple flavored vodka and the back end with mineral oil

Dr. Sherri Gard…… Is the green apple flavor so that the horse likes it? Vodka is a treatment for frothy bloat in cattle (but never heard that it has to be apple flavored). but not helpful if that’s not the cause of the colic. Again, keep away from the rear end, dear clients. No oil, no enema, no onions!

8) Place Garden hose up the butt

Dr. Matt Durham….. Extremely unlikely to be beneficial under most circumstances, and very high risk of causing a tear in the rectum that could be fatal.

Dr. Teresa Crocker….. Enemas- in general reserved only for fecal impactions and must be done in low volume low pressure…so definitely not a garden hose and ONLY under direction of a DVM lest they cause a rectal tear which equals a dead horse

9) Once a horse colics one time, they are more prone to it in the future. Basically, an episode of severe colic makes a horse more susceptible to colic in the future.

Dr. Sherri Gard ….. Colic is such a general term…so a horse with ulcers may continue to “colic” if you don’t actually treat the ulcers. Also, a horse that tends to not drink well may have repeated impactions (due to dehydration). A horse that has been through colic surgery may be prone to adhesion. HOWEVER every colic is different, and it may be a one time thing (or multiple colics in the same horse may have different causes each time).

Dr. Teresa Crocker….. Recurrent colic – nope…although it really depends on why they are colicking…that is why finding the root cause is really important

10) Whiskey if it’s cold, Beer with a raw egg in it if it’s hot

Dr. Sherri Gard….. Well, those are the things that I like to drink based on season EXCEPT the egg… (although I also would say Vodka in the winter and rum in summer!). Don’t think raw eggs should be fed to horses in general…and that in a beer is enough to gag anyone.

11) Chewing tobacco cures colic

Dr. Sherri Gard …… I heard this all the time when I was younger. I think “Red Man” was the preferred brand/type (pouch tobacco). Remember that tobacco is a stimulant, so might help get a gut moving (however, that may also cause a rupture if you have an impaction…so again, the cause of the colic is important to know).

12) Tube with Epsom salt rather than oil

Dr. Sherri Gard…. Legit in some cases, especially impactions. Oil will work as a surfactant to help with gas and as a lubricant. Is also a good marker for “transit time”. Epsom salts act as an osmotic cathartic by drawing water into the gut. Time and place for each, depending on the cause.

13) Homeopathic (nuxvomica I think) rectally??? The person using it swore it works within minutes. I think it was probably the rectal stimulation that made the horse poop.

Dr. Sherri Gard ….. please stop shoving ANYTHING rectally!

14) Milk helps colic

Dr. Fernanda Camargo…. Milk can also cause colic. my theory is that a lot of gas colic or spasmodic colic will resolve by themselves and the horse is “unlucky” enough to be found by the owner before the colic resolves out in the pasture. And they give a shot of whisky and milk and cigarettes and the colic resolves and bam 💥!!! We have a believer.

Dr. Teresa Crocker….. Milk- most horses are lactose intolerant-so may cause increased motility and more inflammation – so prob not great idea

Dr. Sherri Gard….. horses are lactose intolerant (as are most adults of any species…)

15) Shove a water hose:Down their throat and Up their butt

Dr. Matt Durham….. A hose rectally is very unlikely to help and could cause a fatal tear of the rectum. A hose down the throat is more likely to cause the fluid to push into the airway, bringing feed material (with bacteria) into the lungs. This is very likely to cause pneumonia, and not helpful for colic.

Dr. Teresa Crocker…… No hoses unless they are attached to a vet

Dr. Sherrie Gard…. I vote this is the quickest ways to ensure death in your colic… rectal tear and aspiration pneumonia at the same time.

16) Weather causes colic. The horse has to be warm if it’s a cold spell so put a blanket with some lavender oil on the horse

Dr. Matt Durham…. There may be an increased incidence of colic when there is a big swing in temperatures throughout the day. But this has to do with decreased water intake when it’s cold and increased water needs when it warms up. A blanket doesn’t affect this. And lavender oil will make your colicky horse smell nice, but not prevent colic.

Dr. Sherrie Gard ….. I think we like to blame the “weather” for colic, and correlation I tell people is that horses are more likely to drink less during weather swings (and hence cause themselves to have impactions). My own gelding is picky about water, and if it’s too hot or too cold he won’t drink appropriately, or changes in weather he does the same thing. (I also find that I don’t drink enough/as much when the temperature swings as well…) I tell owners to soak feed and try to stimulate drinking as much as possible during these times.

17) Cod liver oil stops colic

Dr. Sherrie Gard …. This creates a very stinky horse when I have to come tube them…and may cause vomiting of the veterinarian…

18) Told to give IM banamine


NOTE……Dr Teresa Crocker…… Banamine IM is risky, Banamine P.O. (by mouth) may be ineffective, both mask symptoms, decrease inflammation….but do not cure the issue

Photos below of horses given Banamine IM

Never Give Banamine IM
Never Give Banamine IM

19) Make the horse jump over objects until colic is gone

Dr. Sherrie Gard ….. Nope. Might aid if it’s a nephrosplenic entrapment, but without rectal/ultrasound by your vet, how do you know that’s the colic cause? Otherwise, I lop this into the “don’t work to exhaustion” and “don’t allow to roll” categories.

Dr. Teresa Crocker …… Jumping a horse is similar to the trailer ride…fluids first and don’t force them to do it

20) Solution of electrolytes is better than mineral oil for the relief of impaction colic.

Dr. Dina Hartzel Wild…. In most cases, truth. Hydration hydration hydration. In some cases just plain water would be better than electrolytes.

21) Mix gallon of butter milk with a quart of honey and tube it into the horse’s belly, repeat 2 days in a row.

Dr. Sherrie Gard….. Who is doing the tubing? Owners? (Aspiration!). If the vet is tubing, I assume they would be using water/electrolytes, not butter milk and honey… Also, lump this into the No Milk thing (horses are lactose intolerant)

22) Is it true that … Moldy hay/grain causes colic

Dr. Sherrie Gard…. Yep. And other badness! Aflotoxins.

Dr. Karie Vander Werf…… Botulism!

23) Cribbing causes colic??

Dr. Fernanda Carmago….. Cribbing has been implicated with 1 type of colic, epiploic entrapment.

24) Is Flipping their upper lip (flehmen response) can be a sign of colic?

Dr. Dina Hartzel Wild….. Can certainly indicate pain, but not diagnostic.

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