Colic, what does it really mean and what are the causes?
Again, I am inspired by recent events, this time with my friend and riding buddy, Sandy.
If you follow me on Facebook you can see that there was a recent event that took Cricket, Sandy and myself to Athens Veterinary Service and University of Wisconsin Madison Veterinary Hospital on a dark Thursday night.
So what is the working theory of what started this emergency trip? A hoof abscess, believe it or not.
I know you’re now thinking, how can a hoof abscess cause colic?
Let’s start with the clinical definition of colic.
Colic is a term used to describe a symptom of abdominal pain, which in horses is usually caused by problems in the gastrointestinal tract. There are over 70 different types of intestinal problems that cause colic symptoms, which range from mild to life-threatening in nature.
So how could a hoof abscess cause this?
Simple, if your feet hurt bad enough, you will make a choice to walk to the water source vs ‘opting out’ of walking over and taking a drink. This is where the problem started, dehydration.
Once a horse begins to become dehydrated their gut will not work optimally. Horses on average need about 5 gallons of water or more a day. When reduced significantly due to choice or availability colic can be the result if you can’t get a horse to drink.
Horses will refuse to drink once colic sets in. It is why vets will push IV fluids to provide the much needed water that the horse is refusing to rehydrate the horses’ systems.
The chain of events that led to our midnight run to Madison.
Cricket showed signs of a hoof abscess brewing the Saturday before. So Sandy started to soak her foot in an effort to soothe and help it bust out. What we didn’t know then, was where that abscess was.
After several days of soaking and Cricket still declining, until that Thursday. Cricket started to show signs of colic, she was shaking, sweating and making motions with her rear legs that there was discomfort in her belly.
Beginning our midnight run.
After a brief contemplation and a discussion with me over the phone, Sandy called the vet and off to Athens Veterinary Services we went.
Arriving at Athens Vet facility, Cricket was brought into their exam area. Determining that the abscess was under the frog or by the rear of the foot, a very painful spot to get an abscess.
Her vitals upon arrival were a rapid heart rate and a temperature of 105. Cricket was in severe distress. Dr. Tom administered Banamine for her pain and also put in a nerve block in her pastern to also help with her pain so we could make the 3 hour trip to Madison more easily.
Off to Madison!
Greeted at the UW Madison facility by a team, the attending vet, a resident and a couple of students. All of them at the ready and whisked Cricket to triage as soon as she stepped off the trailer. Very efficient!
Then we began our waiting for them to help relieve her discomfort, examine her and determine if she was going to be facing emergency surgery that night.
I have to admit there are times I am not a patient person, this was one of them. After an hour and a half though they came back with what I considered good news.
Cricket was colicing, but they couldn’t feel or see with ultrasound any obstruction or mass. So, we were better off beginning treatment on both the hoof and rehydrating her and waiting to see if nature would come through for us.
Remember, a vets or doctors first responsibility is to ‘first do no harm’, so this was a good way to start.
The first 24 hours were the toughest.
She needed to start showing improvement or surgery was going to be back on the table.
Luckily they were able to relieve her pain in her hoof enough and put enough fluids in her via IV. Then her stubborn mare spirit took over the rest and she began to improve. She continued to improve from that point forward. Once home she well on her way to a full recovery.
What is my point?
A belly ache, colic, is caused by a wide variety of influences.
A dirty word, colic, strikes fear into millions of horse owners. There are times that it is not. This is why it is so important to know your horse. Then investigate changes in behavior and if necessary call your vet.
The condition of colic can be brought on by something unrelated to the belly. For example, when your horse is stressed out, in pain from an injury, or in Cricket’s case a brewing abscess.
Know your horse.
Watch for other changes that could bring on colic. Such as loss of appetite, not going to drink or not drinking their usual amount. If you haven’t seen your horse move in a very long time. If they have been laying down more than normal.
You get the idea, changes in their ‘normal’ behavior and personality. These changes are your first signs that something could be going on.