Colic Statistics vs. Laminitis Statistics



When I was first thinking about this article, I was CERTAIN that I could find all sorts of exact stats about colic and laminitis that would line up perfectly.


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  • But really, that’s not the case. Studies are not all created equal, but I thought I would throw a bunch of stats out there so we could at least get a picture about how colic and laminitis stack up. Vaguely.


  • I opted to compare studies that included large numbers of horses, which is really hard to find! There’s just not a whole lot of research out there. One more thing to be clear on. These studies give us ideas about laminitis and colic risks and prevalence, which is really the point. You’re not at the roulette table placing a bet with definitive odds.


horse rolling

How many horses are affected by colic and laminitis?


10% of horses and ponies have an episode of laminitis in a given year.


  • A recent study looked at over 1,000 horses in the UK. The results are eye-popping, apart from the 10%. The results are surprising for a few reasons, one being that most horses don’t show that oft-photographed stance as an indication of laminitis. Detection via other methods is key. Learn to take your horse’s digital pulse, notice if he’s tender, doesn’t turn well, or taking shorter strides at the walk.


The number is similar for colic. It’s generally understood that colic affects 10% of horses.



  • Most of these cases are straightforward, about 80% of them. It’s believed that most are spasmodic cases of colic or impaction colics. More on that later.


  • Of these colic cases, surgery is needed for about 2% of cases.


What percent of horses don’t survive colic or laminitis?


About 7% of laminitis cases result in the horse being humanely euthanized.


  • I read article after article after article about the mortality rate of laminitis, and I couldn’t find a single study to specifically track this stat. So 7% was the average and most common number that popped up.


  • The real problem with laminitis is the aftermath. Many colic cases clear up, or are surgically repaired and the horse can resume his life. Laminitis can create crippling lameness for months and even years.


About 11% of colic cases are fatal.


  • The National Animal Health Monitoring System survey found that 4.2% of horses will have a bout of colic. Of those, only 1.2% will have surgery, and overall, 11% are fatal cases.


  • Another article says the mortality rate of colic is more like 7%.


horse in buckets of iceIce makes fighting laminitis a bit easier.


What causes colic and laminitis?


  • So here’s where it gets really interesting. ISH. There are several “types” of laminitis and several types of colics – and only a bit of statistics on how these all shake out.


For laminitis, there are four types of causes of this disease.


  • Repetitive trauma-induced laminitis occurs when there is either one instance of trauma, like a horse that has galloped along hard surfaces.


  • Supporting limb laminitis occurs when a horse has a severe injury to one leg, such as a fracture, infection, or street nail, the other leg takes the brunt of a horse’s weight.


  • An inflammatory disease process or overeating can also be the culprit. Systemic illnesses in a horse can also lead to laminitis. Colitis, or inflammation of the colon, is one common example of such a case, just like colic, pneumonia, or a retained placenta. Even fevers of known (or unknown) origin can trigger laminitis in a horse.


  • And finally, metabolic disorders. The dreaded Cushing’s Disease and Insulin Resistance, to name a few. Strangely, age is not typically a factor here. It’s the overweight horse, the horse with a poor or unhealthy diet, and the horse that doesn’t exercise much. It’s super easy to have your Vet run some tests to check for metabolic disorders.


overweight horse eating grass

Overweight horses – at risk for laminitis AND colic.


But what’s most likely? For laminitis, it’s suspected that about 90% of all cases are metabolically related. 90 FREAKING PERCENT.


  • At this point, I want, very much so, to climb up on a soapbox and scream things about overweight horses and Cushing’s disease and doing regular bloodwork. But I won’t. I will, however, give you guys some links to other fascinating works of blog art at the bottom of this page.


What about colic causes?


  • There’s not a whole lot of statistics out there, but here’s what we know about colic types and some numbers to go with them.


  • Impaction colics are caused when a horse fails to keep his food moving through his gut. It’s a literal traffic jam. About 10% of all colic cases are impactions.


  • Twisted guts and intussusceptions are about 4% of all colic cases. Twisted guts are just as they sound, and intussusception is when the intestine inverts and sucks itself up. Both are beyond serious.


  • You also find spasmodic colics, in which cramps and spasms take over. It’s estimated that 22% of these cases are triggered by tapeworms.


There are other types of colics out there, for which the statistics are just not easily found.


  • Gas colics are just that – lots of gas. Sometimes, a horse with gas colic will have show excessive passing of this gas.


  • Sand colics are related to the buildup of sand in a horse’s digestive system.


  • Displacements, also known as entrapments, sound as horrible as they are. Your horse’s gut rearranges itself, and in doing so, can damage the blood supply to the affected areas.


  • Strangulation colics are when the blood supply to the intestine is cut off, resulting in rapid death of that tissue. Just as it sounds, this is super bad.


two x marks indicating where to check gut sounds on horses

Know how to check your horse’s digital pulse and know his normal gut sounds.


The only conclusion to be drawn here is that we just don’t have exact numbers.


  • Part of the issue is that studying horse populations is difficult!


  • The primary thing to remember is that horses are going to horse, and we just need to be in tune with them. Knowing the risk factors, managing your horse’s weight, and spotting things early can help keep your horse from becoming one of these statistics.


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Thank you!

More colic articles:


The signs on colic in horses.


How you can help to prevent colic.


Colic risk factors.


For more information on laminitis, read these:


The dangers of an overweight horse.


Know the signs of laminitis.


Risk factors for laminitis.


Some more scientific reading if that floats your boat.


Tinker, M.K., White, N.A., Lessard, P., Thatcher, C.D., Pelzer, K.D., Davis, B., Carmel, D.K. Prospective Study of Equine Colic Incidence and Mortality. Equine Vet J. 1997; 29:448-453.