Colic | More than just a stomach ache
It was Tuesday morning around 7 am on April 17, 2012. I was leaving for work and on my way, I stopped to feed the horses. Sierra and Rain were both standing by the gate like they always had done. I grabbed a bale from the stack and cut it open. As I set the flakes out for them, Rain laid down and rolled a couple of times. I didn’t think much of it because horses roll, no biggie. But then, she sat up on her haunches. Much like a dog and tried to get up. She did this about a half dozen times with no success. I went in and coaxed her up and she was back on her feet.
My first thought was, "Is there something wrong with one of her legs?" I examined her and nothing felt hot or looked swollen. I stepped back and took a few moments to watch her. As she stood to eat, her back legs were in a sort of squatting position. And then….she looked at her side, began rubbing and hitting it with her head, a few seconds later, BAM! She was down on the ground trying to roll.
I knew then….she was colicing.
I didn’t waste another minute. I ran back to the house, threw off my work clothes and into some grubbies. I grabbed her halter and lead and I was back up to the pen. When I got back up there, she was stretched out on the ground. I put her halter on, got her up and led her out.
All I could think about was my very first horse Sammy Jo. She died from colic. It was in late November on my 9th birthday. A day I will never forget. While at school she had gotten into some silage and developed a gas colic. Silage is meant for cattle as it is far too sweet and fermented for horses. Our horses and cattle ran together, but when silage was fed we had them separated. Sammy had gotten into the fenced off pile and by the time my dad had found her, it was too late.
I was not about to lose Rain!
There are different causes for colic and various treatments. If it's a gas colic usually a shot of banamine will do the trick. Banamine helps them to relax and pass the gas and aides as a painkiller. However, if it's an impaction colic you have to get mineral oil into the horse to help break up the blockage and allow them to pass the impaction through and/or have them tubed by a vet.
As you can gather, colic has to do with their stomach and intestines. The impaction in their bowels doesn’t allow them to pass or in other words, poop. This results in severe pain in their abdomen and they want to roll to relieve the discomfort. But if they are allowed to roll they can end up twisting up their bowels so bad that the blockage can’t pass at all. The end result, they can’t poop and their own toxins poison them from the inside. At the same time, their bowels start to die/rot where the knot is.
Below is an image of a particular horse's intestines that are literally in a knot due to colic. This horse died colicing and was later autopsied for learning purposes. Photo credit: A. Aker
With the vet on the phone, Rain and I started walking up and down the road.
Dan was on his midnight shift that week and though sleep-deprived, he went into town to pick up mineral oil and banamine while I continued to walk Rain. We went to work getting the mineral oil into her. It was a slow process as I had to use a turkey-baster and a larger syringe. Things were looking bright around noon when she pooped, but it was only one nugget, roughly the size of my fist. Everything went downhill from there.
I could no longer keep her from trying to roll. We’d be walking and she would just over-power me and thrash on the ground. I was frantic. I felt so helpless. The vet that we usually worked with was nine months pregnant and due any day. She was not advised to go out on large animal calls until after the baby. I had called the other two clinics, but no one would see us. They were either off or weren't taking any new patients. The next closest vets were over four hours away and I was worried trailering Rain that far would be a death sentence in her current state.
I needed help! Rain needed help! She needed fluids because she wasn’t drinking any water and she needed a tube into her stomach to more effectively pump larger doses of mineral oil into her.
It was now close to 5 pm and Dan had to go back in for his midnight shift. I told him to go. I was in contact with our vet all day and was going to reach out to another vet outside of our area. Rain had been resting in the driveway for about an hour, just standing there. A few minutes after Dan left, I looked at Rain and she just about fell over. Fearing she would try and roll again, I grabbed her lead and walked her in few small circles in the yard. I knew she had to be tired. I was. Then she went down hard. She violently rolled about three times, stopped and stretched herself flat out.
I tried and tried to pull her up, but she didn’t move at all. I was so desperate. I thought for sure she was dying on me. She closed her eyes and was not responsive. I tried desperately to get her up, but then gave in and just sat with her and cried. I thought I was losing her.
How could this happen? I noticed the colic right away. I kept her moving when she tried to roll. I gave her over a gallon of mineral oil. And now this. Was this her end?
I called Dan, but I could barely get any words out. I just kept telling him that I think she was dying. He had just gotten to work and was turning around to come home.
I got back on the phone with our primary vet and she said she was coming down. [Please note. Though our primary vet was pregnant, she was never in danger while working on Rain.] Dan pulled in and so did the vet. She put an IV in Rain and we were able to get her some much-needed fluids. We also attempted to tube her stomach to send in mineral oil more effectively, but with no success.
At around 9 pm, Rain had been back up on her feet for a couple of hours and had not attempted to roll or thrash. However, she looked completely exhausted. I got her stall ready for the night and put her in. Before our vet left, she told us it didn’t look good. She was worried about how much she’d roll at night and contemplated putting her down. I was not about to put her down. Not yet. Dan went back to work and I tried to get some sleep.
In the morning I checked on her and she was laying down. I got her up and moving a little. I offered her water and she started drinking. But no poop. Throughout the day I continued to pump mineral oil down her. She would lay down but never attempted to roll. That night when I put her in the stall, she drank another two buckets of water.
Thursday morning when I got up and checked on her, there was poop!!! I had never been so happy to see poop before in my life. The pile was huge! This was the day that Rain lived up to her name, 'Cant Stop the Rain.'
Living in northern Minnesota provides challenges in moments like this due to the fact that we are not near large animal hospitals or a large number of vets. I rely heavily on my experience and the advice that our local vet has given me over the years.
Colic is not something to mess with. If you suspect your horse is colicing you should contact your vet immediately. I share this story, not as a replacement for veterinary services, but rather to offer suggestions on what to look for and how to deal with colic until the vet arrives.
Mineral oil is an essential item that I keep fully stocked in my medical supply box. Please make sure you have some in yours.