Colic is by far one of the most lethal and mysterious horse killers out there. Take a look at the following crucial cues from www.myhorse.com. If you see any of these in your horse, seek medical intervention immediately.
Posture. If your horse is experiencing only mild pain—or is in between bouts of pain—all you may see is that he looks droopy, tired, or depressed. You’ll usually see him standing with his head down and eyes half-shut. This posture can easily be mistaken for a napping, relaxed horse—except that you’ll notice several other peculiarities. If your horse is in a group pasture situation at the time, he’ll likely have isolated himself from the other horses. If he’s alone in a stall, he may be standing with his head facing the back wall.
Horses with mild to moderate abdominal pain will often lay down, either fully flat on their side or sitting on their sternum—and you’ll often see them switch back and forth between the two positions. If you notice that your horse has been lying down more than usual or at an unusual time of the day—like during feeding time—be suspicious.
If your horse is standing while in moderate to severe pain, he’ll likely be standing in a stretched-out position as if to urinate. This is often called a “sawhorse stance” because of the similarities in appearance. If your horse is male, his penis often will be at least partially dropped. You may also notice that he might pace, circle, or get up and down frequently.
Horses in severe pain will often roll on the ground, sometimes violently as the pain escalates.
Body language. Who says horses don’t talk? More often, it’s that we don’t know when, how, or where to listen. For your horse’s well-being, you must learn to become a keen listener to what your horse says with his body language.
A classic sign of abdominal pain in your horse is when he frequently turns his head back to look at, nudge, or even bite at his flank. If you see him kicking at his belly, make sure flies aren’t bothering him. This is a fairly specific sign. Another sign of pain is if you see your horse pawing at the ground. Horses with abdominal pain, or those in shock, may even begin to tremble.
You may notice your horse has become somewhat more vocal, making grunting or groaning sounds. You’re more likely to hear these noises when he’s lying down, which might prompt you to notice other clues. Keep an eye open for your horse exhibiting any lip lifting or rolling (Flehmen response). He may even audibly grind his teeth.
In addition to observing your horse’s body language, examine the ground or stall around him for signs of unobserved pain. Does it look like he might recently have been pawing (bedding pushed aside, holes in dirt) or rolling (flattened grass or bedding, dirt or bedding in the coat and mane)?
Vital signs. Your horse’s pulse and respiratory rate are important clues to the severity of his pain and also to shock status or other metabolic problems. When evaluating your horse, it helps to know what his pulse and respiratory rate normally are since a resting pulse will run anywhere from 28 to 40 beats per minute and still be normal, depending on the individual.
That said, as a rule of thumb, a pulse rate between 40 to 50 bpm is mildly elevated, 50 to 60 is moderately elevated, and above 60 is severely elevated. The respiratory rate tends to change parallel with the pulse rate, so horses experiencing severe pain or metabolic problems breathe the most rapidly.
You should also take your horse’s temperature. In cases where the cause of colic is infectious—such as with Potomac Horse Fever, Clostridia, or Salmonella—you may see fever. Conversely, if your horse is going into shock, the temperature may be abnormally low.
Finally, keep an eye on the feel and color of your horse’s gums and the capillary refill time (see “Big Red Flags” below). These are valuable clues to your horse’s metabolic condition and whether dehydration is developing.