We had a bit of a scare with Quixote this past weekend. When we arrived at the barn that morning, he looked good, and ate his breakfast without a problem. We exercised him, and while he was lazy (as usual), he still looked fine. A few hours later, however, when we went to give him his grain, he refused to eat it, and instead went to the back of his stall and rolled a few times. Sometimes he will lie down, and he after a short nap will come up and eat his grain, but he was breathing heavily and it was obvious that he was in distress.
It appeared to be a mild colic. It was possible that he could have come out of the colic on his own but there is just no reason to leave something as serious as colic to chance. We gave him some oral banamine (which he promptly spat half back out because it’s not like it’s super expensive or anything) to help him with the pain. Banamine is a smooth muscle relaxer, so it helps with intestinal distress. Colic is a generic term for any number of stomach issues, from gas to sand to an impaction, and without a vet exam it’s difficult to determine which type of colic a horse is experiencing.
We do a lot to try to prevent colic. First, we make sure that the horses have both a white salt lick as well as a Himalayan salt lick, and they are cleaned weekly so the horses are more likely to chew on them. We also have the large five gallon plastic horse automatic waterers- this way the water is less likely to get hot, or burn their mouth, as can happen with metal shallow automatic waterers. In addition, the horses are all given electrolytes everyday, and are given psyllium twice a week. When it is very hot, we make sure to cool the horses down with water, and will even sprinkle some salt onto their food in addition to the electrolytes, and will add in some flax oil into the horses’ grain to help them digest their food.
We do not feed bermuda grass hay, which, in California, is very stringy, and difficult for some horses- especially older horses with older teeth- to chew small enough, and this can cause impaction colics. Even with all of these precautions, however, colic can still occur.
Horses seem to know when it is the most expensive time of the day or week to call out a vet, but even with the extra charge, it is worth the money to make sure that the horse is OK. We called the vet, and thankfully he wasn’t on another call, so he came right out. We took all of Quixote’s food out of his stall (not that he was interested in it, anyway), and waited for the vet as we worriedly watched our boy, who by that time was standing again, although his nostrils were flared and he was still in pain.
The vet arrived quickly and gave Quixote some drugs to help him start feeling better, along a mild sedative so he could do his exam. Then he completed a rectal exam, and determined that, while Quixote had a little sand, there wasn’t enough to cause a colic. The vet said that he just appeared to be slightly dehydrated, which is what probably caused the colic. It was still a very mild colic at that point because we caught it so early. It is entirely possible that he could have come out of the colic on his own, or just with some banamine, but it is our rule that it is better to call the vet and have him (or her) come out and everything be completely fine, rather than wait to call out the vet until we are unable to.
After the exam, the vet then tubed him (he ran a tube through his nose into his stomach- this should not be done by anyone other than a vet, as it can go terribly wrong and the tube can go into the lungs. I’ve known two horses that had this happen, and both suffered horribly until they finally had to be put down). There were no issues in this procedure, however, and the vet ran some water into Quixote’s stomach. It came out clean, which showed that Quixote had digested his breakfast, which is a good sign- he had indeed just started coliccing, and since we caught it so early, it was much easier to fix. He ran some electrolytes and oil into his stomach, which would help him pass what was in his intestines.
About halfway through, Ulysses decided it was his job to “help” with Quixote, and put his head over the bars. Horses know when one of their friends is in pain, so, in his own way, he was trying to help. Lou Dillon also put his head over the bars to offer his own support. We gave Ulysses some extra pellets to keep him occupied, and he decided that he had supported Quixote enough, and walked over to eat. Lou Dillon continued to hang out with Quixote, but he was less aggressive in his help, and didn’t bother the vet or Quixote.
After the vet finished his procedure, we had to wait to make sure Quixote would, indeed, be OK. About a half an hour later, when the sedation wore off and he was steadier on his feet, we walked him around in the arena for about 10 minutes. He seemed just fine at that point, which was good to see, although he was still under the influence of some “happy” drugs, so we knew we had to continue to take his condition seriously. About an hour later we gave him a very small amount of mash with some electrolytes. By that time, he was looking around his stall, trying to find the little bit of hay we had taken out.
By that time it was close to 3pm, and besides the fact that we had been very stressed out, we were all hungry and very hot and tired, so we went home to get a shower, some food and some rest, and then Lori (our Treasurer) came out to check on him. He continued to look just fine, which we were very thankful for, and he ate another small bit of mash with more electrolytes.
The vet had also suggested that we put in some water with a half-scoop of senior feed with molasses to encourage him to drink. We have used this trick before, although usually we just pour straight molasses into some water, but it was just as easy to give him the half scoop of sweet feed and a bucket of water. He wasn’t very interested in the water that evening, but he drank it all the next day, so we are going to keep doing that through the summer in an attempt to continue to encourage him to drink. He didn’t get anything else for dinner (and he was super upset over that), and the next morning he got half of his usual amount of breakfast so as not to overwhelm his stomach.
On Sunday we walked him around again for about 15 minutes, but he was already back to his normal, silly self. We gave him another bran mash that afternoon, and by evening we were able to feed him normally.
We are very thankful that we were present and able to notice that Quixote was in distress, and get the vet out immediately. Many thanks to all of those who help sponsor this lovely boy and help us keep him healthy and happy enough to play another day with Lou Dillon in the arena!