Colitis is inflammation of the colon. It's one of those things that can come on quickly and some may think it's colic because of the horse getting up and down frequently. Horses with colitis have the following symptoms abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, depression, dehydration and in some cases shock.
With colitis the colon loses its ability to function properly allowing water and protein to leak out which causes dehydration. Colitis can be caused by viruses, parasites, bacteria or the misuse of antibiotics.
Antibiotics kill off the good bacteria in the gut which can allow the bad bacteria to take hold so don't overuse antibiotics. It can also be brought on by contaminated water or feed.
Horses that are more susceptible to developing colitis are those that are stressed. The stress does not have to be anything huge as it can be anything that changes your horse's daily patter such as introducing a new horse into the herd, putting them in a new pasture or pen, new hay or grain, breeding, trailering, showing, etc.
All of these things can disturb the bacterial balance in the gut. This is why giving a good probiotic can help keep the gut in good working order with healthy bacteria.
Horses that develop colitis are aggressively treated with large amounts of IV fluids, electrolytes, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs. Unfortunately death is common in horses that develop colitis and those that live will sometimes develop other complications like laminitis.
The good news is that there are horses who survive colitis. The famous race horse Seattle Slew developed colitis he survived and went on to race as a 4 year old and was a Triple Crown winner.
Ways To Help Reduce The Chances of Colitis
*Fresh water at all times
*Use of a good probiotic
*Don't misuse antibiotics
*Avoid sudden changes in the diet
*Reduce stress as much as possible
*Feeding good quality hay or pasture with no toxic weeds
*Use grain only as a supplement and not as a way to put on weight
Colitis is a serious condition so make sure you know the signs. If your horse develops diarrhea suddenly contact your veterinarian immediately. Again this is another great reason to know your horse's vital signs (pulse, respiration, temperature and normal mucous membrane color) before anything major happens.