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January 18, 2022 – If you were to ask a horse owner or veterinarian their greatest equine health concern, the answer might surprise you. Foot and leg injuries are devastating in horses, but that’s not what keeps owners up at night.

Surveys of horse owners and equine veterinarians conducted by Morris Animal Foundation and the American Association of Equine Practitioners show colic (abdominal pain due to any cause) is what those who know horses best worry the most about.

Recognizing the need for additional investment in this critical health concern, the Foundation announced this year’s call for equine research proposals would focus on colic. Colic experts from around the world responded, with 23 proposals reaching the final round of evaluation. The projects covered a broad range of subjects, from novel diagnostic tests to educational programs aimed at colic prevention.

Colic is common in horses because of their specialized digestive tract, which differs from other grazing animals, and it doesn’t take much to throw the system off balance. Many things can cause colic, but the most common are:

  • Stretching of the intestinal wall (usually by gas or partially digested food)
  • Twisting of the intestine
  • Intestinal blockage (sand, parasites, feedstuffs and foreign materials are frequent culprits)
  • Inflammation or ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract

Experts say 4%-10% of all horses will experience at least one episode of colic in their lifetime. Most cases can be resolved on the farm with medical treatment, but approximately 10%- 15% of cases need advanced care. For horse owners, colic can be a frightening diagnosis. For veterinarians, colic can be a challenge to treat when a horse’s condition rapidly worsens. Severe cases can lead to difficult decisions about euthanasia. Even in the best-case scenario, treating colic can be costly for horse owners.

The prognosis for horses diagnosed with colic has improved since the Foundation funded its first study, but many equine veterinarians and horse owners hope more can be done to improve outcomes for horses suffering from colic.

“With this focused research, our newly funded studies should help advance the prevention and treatment of colic,” said Dr. Janet Patterson- Kane, Chief Scientific Officer. “I’m grateful to all of our donors and partners who make these studies possible. We’re looking forward to healthier futures for our equine companions and moving colic down the list of health concerns for owners and veterinarians.”