Illnesses 19 of 25

Spasmotic and Gas Colic

I am discussing these two types of colics together because they have similar causes and presenting symptoms. Improper digestion from various causes is responsible for these colics. Stress from nervousness, weather changes, feed changes, and overwork can result in spasmotic or gas colic. To explain why the horse is so sensitive we must again look at the anatomy and physiology of the digestive tract. the horse is designed to graze continually throughout the day and to eat mostly roughage such as grass. Because fiber is digested in the lower intestine or colon this organ has capacity to hold lots of food. In contrast, the stomach which under natural conditions would rarely hold much food is very small. At maximum capacity the stomach of the average horse can hold only 2-3 gallons. The small intestine is 75 ft long but only about 2-3 inches in diameter. Because most horses can not vomit or burp they develop problems quickly if food does not move to the large intestine before fermentation begins. Digestion of starches and fats occurs in the stomach and small intestine.


Impaction colics generally come on slowly with low level discomfort but the opposite is the case with spasmotic and gas colic. Your horse can act normal one minute then become very painful. These horses often lay down and roll violently with little regard for their safety or that of handlers. They may sweat and breathe very rapidly. The pulse and gum color are generally normal in uncomplicated cases. The manure may be loose and in the case of gas colic your horse will appear bloated. With spasmotic colic your horse may seem to relax then become painful for a few minutes then relax again. These colics often occur around or shortly after feeding.


The main plan is to get your horse to relax and begin digesting properly. These colics can often resolve as quickly as they appear if you act promptly. Carefully, halter your horse and get him into a safe area where you can walk him around. This will often settle him down and give you time to examine him. If his gum color is abnormal ( anything other than pink ) , his pulse is over 40 or he looks bloated call your vet immediately. If the walking seems to relax him you can give a dose of probiotcs to stimulate his digestion. You can also give cham. 30c orally every 5 -10 minutes for 4 doses. This should help calm the spasms and help your horse relax more. Neither of these treatments will mask any symptoms. If your horse is still uncomfortable after 20 – 30 minutes call your vet and get on the schedule. The colic may still resolve on its own but it is better to be safe. Your vet will probally want to administer a mild sedative and painkiller and pass a stomach tube. This is a good idea to remove any gas or fluid from the stomach. Fluid reflux from the stomach can indicate a more serious indigestion or inflammation. Mineral oil is often given to prevent gas formation. Oral electrolytes may or may not be needed. Dehydration is not as often a problem in these colics as it is in impactions and it is important not to overload an already full stomach. Once the pain is relieved it is best to put your horse into an environment where he will be most relaxed. If your horse is still suffering from excess gas you can give the homeopathic remedy, colchicum 30c every 5 -10 minutes for 4 doses. If your horse is comfortable and passing manure you can offer a small amount of hay or grass as soon as the pain medication wears off. Try to determine the cause of the colic and change your management if possible.


It is important to maintain horses in as natural an environment as possible. If you can’t offer them access to pasture at least give them plenty of grass hay to munch on. Keep the grain meals small ( no more than 2 gallons at a time ) and divide your grain feedings into more frequent feedings if your horse is a hard keeper. You can also increase the fat in the diet or add alfalfa hay to help your horse gain or maintain weight without increasing the grain. Check your horse for internal parasites and have his teeth examined at least once a year. Regular exercise is important but be careful not to feed or water your horse if he is overheated. Your horse can overheat standing in his pen or stall on a very hot day so delay the grain portion of the diet until the sun goes down and the temperature drops. If this is not possible consider giving only a small portion of the grain or a bran mash. If your horse is under stress which you can not control feed him probiotics on a daily basis. This is especially useful for horses in training or broodmares due to foal. FastrackT powder 1 tsp. twice a day is my favorite. Also consider a dose of probiotics as a preventative if you suspect your horse will be stressed such as at a horse show or when being shipped.

About the Author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy.

Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinary Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.

She has authored several books and publishes at her blog.

Madalyn Ward DVM