Diagnosis and treatment

How is colic diagnosed?

There are many (over 70) different intestinal problems that cause colic. We know from scientific studies that certain horses are more likely to have specific types of intestinal problems and that the treatment for each and prognosis can vary.

Where horses require surgery for treatment of colic, surgery should be performed as early as possible.

Diagnosing the cause of colic can be challenging but signs of persistent or recurring pain is always an indicator that further investigations are required.

At the equine hospital we have a full range of diagnostic equipment including full laboratory facilities and high quality ultrasonography, combined with advanced clinical expertise in this area. This helps us to quickly determine the nature of the problem and its severity.

How is colic treated?

Fortunately most cases (around 90%) of colic seen by vets in practice can be treated with pain relief (analgesia) and other medical treatments without needing to refer cases to hospital facilities such as ours.

These medical interventions can include:-

Pain killers:

  • Short acting to aid examination or longer acting to control pain during natural recovery. Care has to be taken to ensure that colic symptoms are not masked.


  • Given orally to help clear ingesta (feed) that has become stuck (impacted) within the large intestine.

Motility modifiers:

  • These are drugs that can alleviate cramping or spasms of the gut where this is the cause of pain.

Gentle exercise:

  • Under strict veterinary supervision, exercise can alleviate some causes of colic, such as colonic displacements.

Gastrointestinal reflux:

  • Horses are unable to vomit, so intestinal blockage could cause a back up of fluid in the stomach causing rupture (which is fatal in horses). This finding usually indicates more serious forms of colic requiring possible surgery.

What if medical interventions do not work?

In around 10% of colic cases, surgery is needed to save the horse’s life. This is an important decision as the costs and possible prognosis need to be considered.

If surgery is needed to treat colic, it is critical that this is performed as early as possible to maximise horses chances of survival (and often can reduce the costs of aftercare too).

If you think that your horse may have colic, contact your veterinary surgeon.