What is Colitis?

Colitis is an inflammation of the large intestine (colon and caecum) that can be caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Colitis can result from an overload of feed or drinking contaminated water. It is important for horse owners to be able to recognise the symptoms of colitis since it can be a serious condition. Acute severe colitis can be fatal and immediate veterinary treatment is necessary.


Abdominal pain – a horse that is experiencing abdominal pain may paw at the ground, look and/or kick toward the abdomen and may also roll back and forth on the ground in an attempt to relieve the pain.

Diarrhea – one of the most common outward signs of colitis is diarrhoea, which may come on suddenly and explosively in acute cases. The horse may show signs of straining when attempting to manure even though the consistency is watery. Rectal bleeding may also occur.

Fever – a horse with colitis may experience a high fever and loss of appetite. The fever, as well as abdominal pain, accounts for the horse exhibiting no appetite. The normal temperature for an adult horse is between 37.5 and 38.5 degrees C.

Elevated Heart Rate and Respiratory Rate – both heart rate and respiratory rate may be elevated to an extreme level. A normal, resting heart rate for a horse is around 40 beats per minute. The normal respiratory rate in an adult horse varies widely between individuals, with an average being between 8-15 breaths/minute. This can change due to heat, humidity, excitement or distress.

Injected Mucous Membranes – the gums may be pink or brick red and even have a purple colour around the edge of the teeth.


  • Control of inflammation
  • Replace fluid and electrolyte losses
  • Replacement and maintenance of blood pressure
  • Replacement of protein
  • Control of endotoxaemia, which may lead to laminitis
  • Restoration of microbial flora in the large intestine
  • Nutritional management
  • In addition, some causes of diarrhoea have specific treatments aimed at eliminating the cause.