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I've been told that colic and tying up are very different conditions that have similar symptoms. I'm fairly familiar with what each of them are, but I haven't found many similarities other than being visibley uncomfortable in symptoms. This is supposed to make distinguishing between them difficult and treatment risky because treatment based on a misdiagnosis could cause further injury. Could you explain whether this is correct, and how to distinguish between a horse tying up and colicing?

Thank you!

L. T.


You raise an excellent question. Colic and tying-up have some strong similarities, yet important differences, and distinguishing between the two can have major consequences for the horse. Please remember that I'm not a veterinarian, and this simplified layman's discussion will tend to skim over the technical considerations that require a vet's experience and training to fully evaluate.

Colic is basically an equine bellyache, and the key symptoms are abdominal pain, a desire to lie down, and possibly lameness.

There are two classes of tying-up: sporadic and chronic. Sporadic tying-up is caused by overexertion, while chronic tying-up has its roots in things like dietary imbalances and/or abnormal levels of vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, etc. The visible symptoms of tying-up are muscle cramping and stiffness following exercise.

The similarities come in the fact that both conditions cause painful cramping and a reluctance to move around. It's important to distinguish one from the other, because what's good in one case may be very harmful in the other.

In the case of colic, of course, you want to keep the horse moving so the digestive system functions well and the horse doesn't compound an intestinal problem by lying down. Also, walking increases blood circulation in the feet, thus reducing the possibility of founder.

With tying-up, however, exercise should cease immediately and the horse should be moved to a stall with good bedding and access to plenty of fresh water.

Because of the risks associated with confusing one disease with the other, you'll always want to get your vet involved as soon as possible.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

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