We had a colic scare this week with Quixote. When one of our volunteers fed him his grain, he was uninterested, and was lying down. She immediately called Elizabeth, who came down and discovered that Quixote did have signs of colic.
What is colic?
Colic is a general term that is used to describe any sort of stomach issues: it could be a gas colic, meaning the horse has gas bubbles causing pressure and pain in the stomach (just like people); it could be an impaction colic, meaning that there is something that is blocking the intestines, preventing things from passing; or it could be a sand colic, meaning dirt and sand have built up in the intestines, also preventing normal passage of food and manure through the intestines and colon. Horses cannot vomit- once they eat, whatever they eat must pass naturally, which means that any impaction can be very painful and can cause death. Unfortunately horses die everyday due to colic emergencies. Prevention and identifying colic symptoms early are the best ways to help horses who may colic.
There are some ways to help prevent colic. One way is to feed the horses multiple times so they do not eat too quickly, which can prevent them from chewing their food enough, leading both to gas and impaction colics, as well as choke. We feed the horses between three to four times a day, depending upon the day, and we try to feed the horses a little more than they can eat so they always have food in front of them- many of the horses at Hanaeleh are here because they were malnourished, and some came to us with food aggression, so they are more likely to bolt their food. Letting them (eventually) have as much food as they can eat, and having them in stalls where no other horses will steal their food helps them relax and eat in peace. The horses at Hanaeleh all get fed at the same time everyday, which also lets them feel comfortable that they are not missing a meal. We feed the horses electrolytes everyday in their grain to ensure that they are not dehydrated, which helps to reduce impaction colics. They are fed psyllium twice a week to help prevent sand colic. We also feed flax oil to a few of the horses who have had colic symptoms in the past. Still, no matter what, some horses can still colic.
When Elizabeth came down, she immediately gave him some banamine, and he seemed to be doing OK. We were hopeful that he maybe just had a mild gas colic, and would be fine. Unfortunately, after a few hours, he started to lie down again and was in pain. When he exhibited more severe symptoms, we immediately called the vet.
When the vet came out, she was hesitant to give him any more banamine, so she gave him some other pain medication and a sedative. Quixote was less than helpful during the examination, and both the vet and Elizabeth were pushed around and Elizabeth was stepped on a few times. Lou Dillon was very helpful, putting his head into Quixote’s stall and offering his assistance, as it were.
The vet determined that it wasn’t a sand colic, and she did an ultrasound to ensure that there wasn’t an impaction. Quixote was still in a lot of pain, however, and wanted to lay down and roll throughout the exam- he almost took out the ultrasound machine! We weren’t sure why he was in so much pain, and there was the concern that a melanoma had created an impaction in his intestines that the vet could not see on the ultrasound. If that were the case, there really were no options available to him. We were afraid we were going to have to make the decision to put him down.
Finally, after a few hours, the vet gave him some more banamine, and this seemed to help quite a bit. Quixote lay down again, but this time seemed quiet, and was no longer rolling around. The vet left us with another pain medication that we could give him later that evening, and told us to call her and keep her appraised of how he was doing. We still weren’t sure if he was going to make it, and it was a very tense and emotional time. We kept telling him that we loved him and he needed to be strong, and he wasn’t allowed to give up.
Quixote turns a corner
After about another half an hour, Quixote stood up, and started to look for food, which was a great sign that he was feeling better! We were so relieved! He looked at us as if to ask why we stole all of his food? Actually, we gave some to Lou Dillon and some to Ulysses- horses who colic should not have food until the colic symptoms have passed.
We stayed with Quixote for some time, making sure he was not going to relapse, but he seemed fine. Early the next morning, Elizabeth came out with Emily, who gave Quixote another IV shot of banamine. He seemed bright and happy, but we were concerned that he would start coliccing again, so we did not feed him again until later that afternoon, and only gave him small amounts of food several times throughout the afternoon and evening. He was not thrilled, but at least he was alive. We have slowly increased his food, and hopefully by next week he will be back to his normal diet.
We are so thankful that Quixote is safe and healthy again! We will continue to monitor his progress and look forward to him feeling well enough to start his silly antics again!