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Foal or Newborn, Abdominal Pain (Colic)

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

    “Colic” is a general term for a horse’s demonstration of abdominal pain. It is a common emergency, and can result from simple gas accumulation or gut spasm (70% of the time), or from more serious problems involving any part of the equine intestine. Occasionally a foal can show colic signs when body systems other than the intestines are involved. Examples include bladder rupture and fractured ribs.

    Foals are very sensitive to abdominal pain (colic). Foals in colic pain may roll, lie on their back, get up and down, grind their teeth, curl their lip, kick at their belly, look at their side, and engage in numerous other abnormal behaviors. Most also stop nursing and act depressed or disoriented. Any or all of these colic signs can range from mild to severe, but severity of any of the signs does not necessarily correlate to the severity of the problem. Foals may show one sign, or many signs simultaneously.

    The most common Condition Causing Colic (CCC) in otherwise healthy newborns is first manure (meconium) impaction. Other signs of meconium impaction are straining to defecate and bloating (abdominal distention). Foals acquire intestinal infections that can be very painful and thus cause them to exhibit colic.

    Untreated, these infections can be fatal within hours. Diarrhea is usually but not always associated with these infections. Young foals are prone to ulcers in the stomach and upper small intestine. Colic signs may also be caused by a variety of other conditions, usually involving the intestines but possibly involving other organs.

    Keep in mind that a distressed foal is not easy to examine, is fragile, and handling them may make the situation worse.

    WHAT TO DO

    Rather than spending the time evaluating a sick and fragile foal, it may be wise to immediately call your vet and get them to evaluate the foal. In the case that the colic signs are accompanied by straining to defecate, your vet may advise treating for meconium impaction. If enema treatment does not result in significant passage of manure, or signs of colic persist, be sure to report that to your vet.

    If your vet advises you to treat your foal with pain medication, always remove feed and prevent access to feed. Medications like flunixin meglumine (Banamine®) can be dangerous to foals, and they tend to mask the signs of colic pain, giving a false sense of security. If your vet advises you to treat the foal yourself, also be sure to discuss the subtle signs to watch for that might indicate an ongoing problem despite medication, and how to manage the foal going forward to reduce the likelihood of further problems.

    WHAT YOUR VET DOES

    Your vet uses a history, physical examination and basic diagnostics to try to categorize the condition causing the colic pain as either simple and responsive to field treatment, or requiring hospitalization and more aggressive therapy. They treat the foal symptomatically as they are examining it. Ultimately, your vet’s goal is to quickly differentiate between foals that require hospitalization or surgery from foals that will respond to medical therapy. Vets look at management and general health of mare and foal and may provide consultation as to how to reduce the likelihood of further bouts.

    What Not To Do

    Do not try to examine or treat your foal unless you are able to do it easily and your vet advises it.

    Do not use flunixin meglumine (Banamine®) without your vet's guidance as it can be dangerous to young foals.

    Do not give repeated enemas to foals without veterinary guidance. Aggressive use of enemas can injure the rectum.

    POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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