Tuesdays with Tony
I hope everybody was able to make it out to my recent Colic Seminar. Boy, did I learn a lot! Apparently there are several common misconceptions out there about colic that are not based on reality at all. In case you missed it, I am here to share my wealth of cat knowledge with you, and to bust those colic myths right out of the park!
Myth #1: Colic is a twisted gut.
Truth: The term ‘colic’ actually refers to a series of signs of pain, and doesn’t necessarily indicate a GI problem at all. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my years as supervisor of an equine veterinary clinic, it’s that every horse colics differently. Some horses lay down and roll, but others paw and bite at their sides, still others simply don’t finish their grain and lift their upper lip (called the Flehmen response). I’ve heard of horses acting neurologic in their efforts to get comfortable, or even running erratically around their pasture.
This pain syndrome we call ‘colic’ can be caused by cramping, gas, a fever, a GI impaction, a urinary tract obstruction, severe pneumonia, stomach ulcers…. the list goes on. Basically, the vet’s job is to determine why your horse is colicking, and to make sure it’s not one of those rare but life-threatening ‘bad’ causes of colic, such as a twist (volvulus), strangulation, or displacement (a section of bowel is not where it’s supposed to be).
Myth #2: Horses twist their gut when they roll.
Truth: Not so fast. Have you ever seen a horse roll in the dirt, get up, shake off, and go about their day? I see the horses out in the paddocks do that all the time! I can also tell you that many horses go to surgery for a large intestine displacement or small intestine volvulus (180 degree twist) having never rolled.
Now, if you came to my wonderful Colic Seminar, you learned from Dr. Abbott that the horse’s GI tract, from mouth to rectum, measures over 100 feet. So there is definitely the potential for things to get tangled up in there. Here is the current understanding of what vets believe happens when horses actually ‘twist their gut’: Your horse gets dehydrated. This may be because there was a sudden temperature drop and he didn’t feel as thirsty as usual. Or, it may be because you were hauling to a competition and he didn’t have a water bucket in front of him the whole time. Or, it may be that he had a hoof abscess and he didn’t feel it was worth the pain to hobble on over to the water trough. For whatever reason, your horse became dehydrated, and now there is not enough moisture within his GI tract for his food (usually hay) to move along. So, it gets stuck. Now we have an impaction. Bummer.
Once your horse has an impaction, gas builds up behind (or on the mouth side of) the impaction. This gas-filled section of colon then tends to float up, and given the right circumstances, flip over top of the heavy, ingesta-filled section of colon. Now you’ve got yourself a ‘twisted gut,’ no rolling required.
Myth #3: Mineral oil is better than electrolyte solution.
Truth: This myth was busted LIVE by Dr. Vurgason at my awesome Colic Seminar, but in case you missed it, here’s how it went down. She put a fecal ball in a cup of mineral oil… it just sat there, unchanged, floating around, the whole time. She put another fecal ball in a cup of our top-secret electrolyte solution… and even before the seminar was over, it had almost completely dissolved and dispersed. This is the same solution our docs would administer to your horse via stomach tube if he were colicking. Shhhh, don’t tell anybody my secret recipe: it’s Epsom salt, lite salt, regular salt, and baking soda!
This amazing combination acts as a laxative, while also maintaining specific levels of certain minerals such as Magnesium, Sodium, Chloride, and Calcium to draw more water into the GI tract from the rest of the body. Mineral oil is a little old-school, but it does have it’s place. It will serve as a marker that your horse has passed the impaction when you see oil coming out his rear end. Other than that, we don’t think mineral oil is worth it’s salt.
Myth #4: There’s nothing I can do to prevent a colic.
Truth: While nobody can 100% prevent every type of colic, there are definitely things you can do to make it less likely that you will have a colic emergency. First off: water, and lots of it. Horses need to drink about 10 – 15 gallons of water per day just to maintain their hydration, and that’s not taking into account ongoing water loss such as sweating on a hot day. But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. What you can do, however, is add soaked beet pulp or soaked alfalfa cubes/pellets to his diet in order to get more moisture into him. You can also add about 1 tablespoon of salt to his feed twice daily to encourage him to drink.
In addition to water, your choice of hay and how you feed it can greatly alter your horse’s colic risk. Coastal hay has a known association with impaction colics. In my docs’ experience, the more fine, short, ‘cow-quality’ coastal hay is even more likely to cause an impaction. If you choose not to eliminate coastal hay from your horse’s diet, my docs strongly recommend adding about 1/4 flake of alfalfa or peanut hay for every flake of coastal hay you feed. These legume hays have laxative effects which help to keep the coastal hay moving through your horse’s GI tract.
Another common and semi-preventable type of colic we see is sand colic. By feeding your horse’s hay and grain in elevated feeders or hay nets, you can limit their accidental ingestion of sand. In addition, feeding psyllium in the form of Sand Clear pellets for 1 week a month can help to “clean out” the sand from the colon. Alfalfa hay can also help to achieve this goal by essentially raking the sand from the bottom of the large intestine where it likes to settle, and carrying it out in the manure.
If you enjoyed my Colic Seminar, you won’t want to miss my next See Tony Event: my First Aid Seminar, coming up on April 11th at 6:30pm, right here at the clinic. Hope to see all you cool cats there!
P.S. If you’d like to watch the video of the colic seminar, or any of our other amazing videos, you can find them on our YouTube channel.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!