I received a note from a colleague recently saying her area had been hit with an epidemic of mild recurrent colics. Two of her four equines had had trouble (notably her pony and donkey had not). Unfortunately I could sympathize with her situation. I’ve just ‘celebrated’ my third anniversary of mild recurrent colics in one of my ponies. I remember reading four years ago about a young man who was struggling with his favorite mare doing this; now I can really relate to the frustration and stress that he was experiencing.
After three trips to veterinary hospitals in my three years with my afflicted pony, and three diagnoses of a healthy pony, I’ve of course tried to find answers about why this otherwise healthy pony occasionally gets very uncomfortable and goes off her feed for days at a time, occasionally looking at her side and laying down and rolling. My very first experience with colic was a vicarious one, when a mare I’d bought was boarded at a friend’s and colicked when the barometric pressure suddenly changed. I’ve since watched my colicky pony suffer when the weather changes drastically. Notably her last episode was just before my colleague said the epidemic started in her area. She’s ‘downstream’ of me weather-wise; we often compare notes of how weather fronts manifest in her area compared to mine here.
I’ve also pondered ulcers as the cause, and recently I read about enteroliths as being a possible explanation. Enteroliths are mineral accretions that can sometimes become as large as grapefruit but can also be small enough to only temporarily block the intestine and then ‘bounce’ out of the way, hence the mild recurrent nature of the colic symptoms. I’ve also noticed that a frozen stock tank (when the heater runs out of propane) will trigger an onset, as will running out of minerals (these are related from the standpoint of dehydration, especially when their diet is hay).
I once had a water-related ‘epidemic’ of colic. I had added a supplement to a stock tank that was highly recommended by colleagues. Two ponies colicked within a few days of each other; one recovered after an hour of walking, the other required a trip to the hospital and an overnight stay. Needless to say, I emptied and cleaned that stock tank and never used that supplement again!
The lack of a firm diagnosis for my colicky pony of course means lack of a clear treatment plan. Instead I have had to make peace with a plan that builds resilience. The last vet recommended a senior feed twice daily to ensure that easily digested feed transits the digestive system regularly. Indeed this protocol has reduced but not eliminated recurrence, prompting me to recognize that resilience has two relevant definitions. The first is to adjust to a changed condition. The second is the ability to bounce back to a previous state after an adverse event. At the moment, I feel like I’ve only achieved the first definition of resilience, adjusting to recurrent colics. I hope that in time I can figure out how to achieve the second definition, which has so far proved elusive: to bounce back to previous good health. Unfortunately time is working against me, as this pony is in her twenties. I’ll continue to feel fortunate that at least we’ve achieved some resilience for her, and for me I’ve at least become accustomed to the mild and recurrent nature of the situation so I no longer walk her all night or let her condition completely distract me from the rest of the herd. Her nickers of greeting have double meaning these days – ‘hello’ is always welcome, and it also signifies she’s feeling fine.
Another resilience strategy I’ve adopted – slow feeders – will be covered in the next issue of The Partnered Pony™ Inquirer. Click here to join me!
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2014