Updated July 17, 2023 | Reviewed By: Andris J. Kaneps, DVM, PhD, DACVS, DACVSR
What is Gas Colic?
Colic is pain that originates in the abdomen. Gas colic, also referred to as spasmodic colic, is one of the most common types of colic in horses. It is defined as mild to moderate abdominal pain that is caused by the accumulation of gas in the intestine. Gas colic either resolves on its own or with medical treatment recommended or provided by your horse’s veterinarian.
Causes of Gas Colic in Horses
The pain associated with gas colic is caused by the stretching of the intestine due to the presence of gas and can be accompanied by repeated intestinal spasms. The mild or excessive gas build-up may be caused by:
The only way the gas can be relieved is by passing through the intestinal tract as horses cannot burp or belch. Although the underlying cause of most gas colic episodes is rarely identified, the risk factors for all types of colic, including changes in diet, stabling, activity, and health care, are also associated with gas colic.
Signs of Gas Colic in Horses
The clinical signs of gas colic resemble those of other types of colic and may include:
Horses experiencing gas colic may have observable distension of the abdomen, which often looks like a larger, filled flank compared to their normal. They may have frequent gut sounds during intestinal contractions, lack of gut sounds, or multiple quick gut sounds associated with spasmodic colic.
Treatment for Gas Colic in Horses
Even though gas colic is common, you should still speak with your veterinarian if your horse shows any signs of colic. Only your veterinarian can determine the likely cause of the colic and administer the appropriate treatment to relieve the horse’s discomfort and restore the GI tract to proper working order as quickly as possible.
Most horses with gas colic respond to anti-spasmodic medication, which reduces repeated gut contractures in response to gas distension, and non-steroidal medication which reduces intestinal pain. Horses with gas colic are also often administered treatments via a stomach tube, such as warm water with electrolytes or mineral oil that help reduce free gas and may treat constipation or manure impaction.
Though most gas colic episodes respond very well to medical treatment you and your veterinarian must have a plan in case hospitalization is necessary for a more in-depth work-up or intensive care for your horse.
Prevention and Recurrent Episodes
The best natural treatment for gas colic is prevention. Prevention involves following feeding and management best practices, such as:
Supplements That May Lend Support
Horses that undergo diet and management changes, that are prone to chronic gas colic, or that seem to just pass a lot of gas (“gassy horses”) may benefit from digestive supplements intended to support the normal health and function of the hindgut. These include products with ingredients such as yeast, enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics which are thought to nourish and maintain the population of microorganisms that naturally live within the horse’s digestive tract.
Does baking soda help gas colic in horses?
We caution that the effects of baking soda on an actively colicking horse have not been researched. Oral sodium bicarbonate at high levels may cause an electrolyte imbalance, such as elevated sodium (hypernatremia) and circulatory volume overload. Encapsulated bicarbonate is an ingredient in supplements specifically used to address excess fermentation in the hindgut. Read this article to understand the uses and myths of baking soda for horses.
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About the United States Eventing Association
The USEA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization committed to providing eventing enthusiasts with a competitive level suited to their individual skills. By assisting and educating competitors, event organizers, and officials; maintaining responsible safety standards; and registering qualified competitions and clinics, the USEA offers a strong and continuous training opportunity for an ever-expanding field of world-class competitors. Just as importantly, the USEA provides a means for all riders, regardless of age or ability, to experience the thrill of eventing. To learn more, visit www.useventing.com.
United States Eventing Association (USEA) members at the USEA Annual Meeting & Convention were in for a treat on Friday as the U.S. Eventing Team was on hand to discuss their accomplishments this year at the Pan American Games in Santiago, Chile.
“Test the best without hurting the rest,” said show jumping course designer Chris Barnard as he and fellow designer Marc Donovan led a lively discussion for nearly 50 participants at the Show Jumping Seminar on the first day of the USEA Annual Meeting & Convention.
This afternoon, USEA President Louise “Lou” Leslie welcomed U.S. Eventing Association (USEA) Board of Governors members, USEA staff, and USEA Annual Meeting & Convention attendees to the first of two Board meetings which will take place during this year’s Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, with the teaser that 2024 is going to be full of initiatives for more opportunities to access the eventing experience, some of which attendees might get first wind of during this year’s gathering. The 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention takes place Dec. 7-10 at the Marriott St. Louis Grand Hotel.
Welcome to the Show Me state and to Area IV USEA members! The 2023 USEA Annual Meeting & Convention kicks of tomorrow and features four full days of educational seminars, committee meetings, and social gatherings all with one aim—to bring the eventing community together to continue to improve upon and celebrate the sport that we all love. This year’s Convention takes place in St. Louis, Missouri, at the Marriott St. Louis Grand in downtown St. Louis from Dec. 7-10, and we have rounded up everything you need to know to make the most of your time in the heartland.