March is almost over, and you've all heard the saying, "In like a lion, out like a lamb." Personally I prefer lions because they are really just big, less cuddly cats. Anyway, all this weather fluctuation has made for a bunch of colics!
In horses, colic is just a general term for signs of GI pain. Colic may be due to an impaction, a twist (the fancy doctor word for this is volvulus), gas, stomach ulcers, or inflammation (doctor word enteritis). Colic may even be due to something non-GI like a urinary obstruction, although that is more of a cat thing. Luckily I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing one yet.
About 90% of the colics we see are termed "mild colics." Less than 10% of colics are severe or "surgical colics," so named because they would require surgery to correct. So what makes a colic a mild or severe one?
In many cases, the answer is time. Most colics, when treated early with pain medication, laxatives, and electrolytes, will improve. There are some cases where a really big impaction will require rehydration with IV fluids to get it to pass.
When a mild colic is left untreated, it has the potential to become a bad colic. In the case of gas colics, the gas-filled intestine can float to the top and cause the large colon to twist. An impaction due to long-term dehydration can get worse and worse until it would need to be cut into and flushed out with a hose to get rid of it (yes, that is literally what they do during colic surgery).
Unfortunately, some horses are very stoic and don't tell you their belly hurts until it hurts really, really bad! Also, some people have jobs and can't stay home watching their horses all day to see if they colic. So if your horse colics at 8am and you don't get home until 5:30pm, it might already be a bad colic.
There is also something fat horses can get called a lipoma, basically a fatty tumor, that wraps itself around the small intestine and cuts off the blood supply. Nobody can do anything about that without surgery. Just one more reason I chose not to be a horse!
Luckily our docs are well trained to tell whether your horse has a mild colic or a bad colic, and they will know what to do either way! So the next time your horse has a bit of a bellyache, give us a call. The sooner the better! Odds are in your favor that it will be mild, but I wouldn't want to take my chances. Maybe that ball of yarn doesn't look so tasty after all...I'll just continue my nap.
Until next week, may the odds be ever in your favor!