Gas Colic

Gas colic is one of the more common types of colic and one of the least serious. It is caused when excess gas collects at some point in the horse’s intestinal tract, causing it to become distended. The distended gut stimulates pain receptors within the intestine, which then signals the horse’s brain that trouble is brewing.

During a bout of gas colic, the abdominal pain may come and go, causing the horse to exhibit severe discomfort for intermittent periods of time. At times, a horse may react violently to the pain.

Symptoms of gas colic may include any or all of the following behaviors:

  • Pawing
  • Looking at or biting the flanks
  • Stretching out
  • Lying down
  • Attempting to roll

It is acceptable to allow your horse to lie down and rest if he or she is not trying to roll. Between bouts of pain, the horse may remain quiet.

It is hard to determine the exact reason a horse is suffering from gas colic. Some causes of gas colic include:

  • Inadequate forage consumption
  • Intestinal inflammation that disrupts normal digestion
  • Excess fermentation of feedstuff in the cecum or large colon
  • Abnormal peristalsis caused by spasm of the intestinal muscles

A possible complication of gas colic is the displacement or twisting of the extended bowel. If this occurs, a horse will most likely be in constant, often severe, pain. In the case of an intestinal twist it is imperative that immediate action is taken to prevent irreversible damage to the intestinal tissues.

The best way to prevent gas colic is to provide good nutrition and follow proper feeding guidelines.

  • Feed at least 2% of your horse’s body weight in good quality fiber with at least 1% of it in the form of long-stemmed fiber (grass or hay)
  • Prior to feeding, check your horse’s hay for mold or weeds
  • When feeding concentrates (grains and pellets) offer frequent small meals (do not feed more than 5 lbs per meal)
  • Provide fresh, clean water at all times
  • Make all feed changes slowly, over 7 to 10 days
  • When introducing pasture to horses that have not been grazing, do so slowly over several weeks

Colic of any type should be considered an emergency. If your horse shows signs of colic, contact your veterinarian immediately. While you are waiting for the veterinarian to arrive, keep your horse quiet and don’t allow him or her to roll. It is a good idea to withhold feed until your veterinarian can determine the cause of your horse’s colic.


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