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Types of Horse Colic

This list of types of horse colic is not exhaustive but details some of the types which may be encountered. 

Sand impaction

This is most likely to occur  in horses that graze sandy or heavily grazed pastures leaving only dirt  or sand to ingest. The term sand also encompasses dirt. The ingested  sand or dirt accumulates in the pelvic flexure, right dorsal colon and  the caecum of the large intestines. As the sand or dirt irritates the  lining of the bowel it can cause diarrhea. The weight and abrasion of  the sand or dirt causes the bowel wall to become inflamed and can cause a  reduction in colonic motility and in severe cases even peritonitis.  Horses should not be fed from the ground in areas where sand, dirt and  silt are prevalent although small amounts of sand or dirt will still be  ingested by grazing. 


These are round balls of mineral  deposits often formed around a piece of ingested foreign material, such  as sand or gravel. When they move from their original site they can  obstruct the intestine. They are not a common cause of colic in horses,  but are known to be more common in states with a sandy soil and where an  abundance of alfalfa hay is fed, such as California. Once a horse is  diagnosed with colic due to enterolith it usually requires surgery to  correct the condition. 

Pelvic flexure impaction

This is caused by an  impaction of food material (Grass, Hay, Grain) at a part of the  large bowel known as the pelvic flexure of the left colon where the  intestine takes a 180 degree turn and narrows. Impaction generally  responds well to medical treatment, but more severe cases may not  recover without surgery. If left untreated, severe impaction horse colic  can be fatal. The most common cause is when the horse is on box rest and/or consumes large volumes of straw, or the horse has dental disease  and is unable to chew properly. 

Large roundworms

Occasionally there can be an  obstruction by large numbers of roundworms. This is most commonly seen  in young horses as a result of a very heavy parasite infestation that  can subsequently cause a blockage and rupture of the small intestine.  Deworming heavily infected horses may cause dead worms to puncture the  intestinal wall and cause a fatal peritonitis. If a heavy worm  infestation is suspected. It is often the result of a poor deworming  program. Horses develop immunity to parascarus between 6 months age and  one year and so this condition is rare in adult horses. 

Left dorsal displacement

Left dorsal displacement is another of the physical horse colic types where the left dorsal colon becomes trapped above the spleen. 

Right dorsal displacement

Right dorsal  displacement is another displacement of part of the large bowel.  Although signs of this horse colic may not be very severe, surgery is  usually the only available treatment. 


Various parts of the horse's  gastrointestinal tract may twist upon themselves. It is most likely to  be either small intestine or part of the colon. Occlusion of the blood  supply means that it is a painful condition causing rapid deterioration  and requiring emergency surgery.


Intussusception is a form of equine  colic in which a piece of intestine "telescopes" within a portion of  itself. It most commonly happens in the small intestine of young horses and requires urgent surgery. 

Spasmodic colic

Spasmodic colic is the result of  increased peristaltic contractions in the horse's gastrointestinal  tract. It can be the result of a mild gas buildup within the horse's  digestive tract. The signs of this horse colic are generally mild and  respond well to spasmolytic and analgesic medication. 

Gastric ulceration

Horses form ulcers in the stomach  fairly commonly. Risk factors include confinement, infrequent feedings, a  high proportion of concentrate feeds, excessive non-steroidal  anti-inflammatory drug use, and the stress of shipping and showing. Most  ulcers are treatable with medications that inhibit the acid producing  cells of the stomach. Antacids are less effective in horses than in humans, because horses produce stomach acid almost constantly, while  humans produce acid mainly when eating. Dietary management is critical.  Bleeding ulcers leading to stomach rupture are rare. 

Other causes may show clinical symptoms of colic in  horses. Strictly speaking colic refers only to signs originating from  the gastrointestinal tract of the horse. Signs of equine colic may be  caused by problems other than the GI-tract.