For some animals, it’s necessary to recognize signs of illness, injury, or discomfort as they tend to hide them. How do you identify a horse in pain, and how to differentiate colic from other pain?
Obvious indicators of pain include rolling or pawing, but horses also have more subtle signs as well which might be overlooked. Colic is a specific term, associated with their digestive system and registers as abdominal pain. It can range from mild to severe and respond to medication or need surgery, but should always prompt an immediate call to your veterinarian.
Some common indicators of colic include anxiety or depression, pawing at the ground, looking at their flank, wanting to lie down, lack of bowel movement, reduced appetite, and excessive sweating. They can also lack normal gut noises or stretch out as if they are attempting to urinate, or have a high pulse of over 50 beats per minute.
What causes colic? A multitude of things from gas accumulation to bowel obstruction, if their intestines rotate and become entrapped, poor blood supply to their intestines, or inflammation within their gastrointestinal tract.
Horse owners – and prospective horse owners – should research and become knowledgeable on the symptoms so that, when the situation calls for it, you can respond quickly. It’s also important to know how to take your horse’s temperature, heart and respiratory rates, and recognize the mucous membrane color. Becoming familiar with these vital signs means seeing a change immediately and being able to convey the information to your vet.
What should you have on hand? A stethoscope and an emergency kit. Beyond listening to their heart rate, you can learn what their gut sounds like. Your vet will want to know what sounds off to you in addition to changes in behavior, diet, and level of activity.
Some other indicators of pain include grinding their teeth – not just the action but when they do it. Does your horse grind their teeth after they eat? It might mean a gastric ulcer. If it happens when they’re being ridden, it might point to something about the rider causing discomfort.
Also make sure to notice a distracted expression, difficulty in going up or downhill, and any unusual postures which include shifting weight, pointing a hoof, or protecting a sore limb. Don’t dismiss anything that seems off or outside of normal behavior to you, and contact your vet with questions.