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The One Thing Horses Can’t Do: Understanding their Inability to Vomit

The Inability of Horses to Vomit

As much as we love our equine companions, there are some aspects of their biology that may seem quite strange. One such oddity is the fact that horses are unable to vomit.

While this may seem like a minor issue at first, it has serious implications for their health. In this article, we will explore the mechanisms that make vomiting impossible, possible reasons for its evolution, as well as the impact on digestive issues.

Mechanisms that Make Vomiting Impossible

Unlike other mammals, horses have a strong muscle that connects their esophagus to their stomach at a low angle. This muscle is called the lower esophageal sphincter and it provides an almost airtight seal between the esophagus and the stomach.

This makes it impossible for horses to regurgitate food and bring it back up through the esophagus and out of the mouth. Additionally, the shape and orientation of a horse’s digestive tract are designed for one-way movement of feed.

Their intestines are relatively long and contain many twists and turns, which helps to break down and absorb nutrients. However, this also prevents any potential backward flow of food.

Possible Reasons for Evolution

While this inability to vomit may seem like a disadvantage, it is actually a survival mechanism for horses. In the wild, horses are prey animals and must avoid being caught by predators.

If horses were able to vomit, they would be more vulnerable to attacks from predators, as they would have to stop and regurgitate before running away. Additionally, horses are able to survive on a diet of low-quality forage during times of famine.

While the forage may not be the most nutritious, the inability to vomit prevents horses from losing the foresight food they have consumed. Rather, the food is given time to break down and digest over an extended period of time in the intestines.

Impact on Digestive Issues

The inability to vomit puts horses at a higher risk for certain digestive issues such as colic and gas buildup. Colic, a common ailment among horses, is defined as abdominal pain and is often caused by an obstruction, torsion, or spasm in the intestines.

If a horse were able to vomit, they could quickly relieve the pressure in their stomach which could help to prevent colic from occurring. However, since horses cannot vomit, it is essential that owners are proactive in ensuring their horses receive a well-balanced diet and stay hydrated to keep their digestive system healthy.

Survival Mechanisms of Horses

Physical Adaptations for Running from Predators

Horses have evolved various physical adaptations that allow them to run quickly and effectively away from predators. Their long legs and powerful muscles enable them to cover large distances at high speeds.

However, what might be most impressive is the fact that they can maintain their speed for long periods of time, thanks to their efficient cardiovascular system. Horses have a large heart that can pump a significant amount of blood which provides their muscles with the oxygen they need to keep running.

Picky Eating as a Protective Mechanism

Horses have selective palates and are quite picky about the food they consume. They have evolved this mechanism as a form of protection against toxic ingestion.

In the wild, horses have learned to avoid plants that are poisonous or toxic to their digestive system. While some might view this as a nuisance, it helps to prevent horses from inadvertently consuming something that could cause them harm.

Common Digestive Issues in Horses

Unfortunately, horses are prone to a variety of digestive issues. One of the most common is choke, which is when food gets stuck in the esophagus, causing an obstruction.

Horses that are prone to choke should be fed smaller, more frequent meals to avoid overeating. Additionally, it is important to ensure that their food is well-chewed and moistened before being fed to them.

Another common digestive issue is colic, as previously mentioned. This can be caused by a variety of factors, including dehydration, stress, and changes in diet.

It is important to note that colic can be life-threatening and should be addressed immediately. Signs of colic include pawing at the ground, rolling, and refusing food or water.

In conclusion, understanding the quirks of horse biology is essential to being a responsible and proactive horse owner. Knowing about a horse’s inability to vomit, as well as their various survival mechanisms and digestive issues, can help owners prevent potential health problems and ensure their horses lead long and happy lives.

Colic in Horses

Colic is a term used to describe abdominal pain in horses. It’s a term horse owners never hope to hear but sadly, it’s a reality that all horse owners have to deal with at some point.

Colic is a common problem and can be caused by a variety of factors. In this article, we will explore the definition and causes of colic, the impact of the inability to vomit on colic, as well as the symptoms of colic in horses and when to call a vet.

Definition and Causes of Colic

Colic is simply defined as abdominal pain in horses. It can be caused by various factors such as gas buildup, impactions, obstructions, or other underlying medical conditions.

Horses are susceptible to colic if they consume large amounts of food, especially concentrates, or if they have a diet that is too high in protein. Feeding a horse with moldy feed or one that is low in fiber can also cause a colic episode.

Dehydration, lack of exercise and stress have also been known to cause colic in horses.

Impact of the Inability to Vomit on Colic

The inability of horses to vomit has a significant impact on colic since they are unable to expel gas from their digestive system. The horse’s long digestive tract poses an additional problem, as it can trap large amounts of gas and create pressure.

When this happens, the horse experiences abdominal discomfort and pain. Unlike other animals like dogs and cats, who can relieve pressure by vomiting, horses must rely on other methods to relieve the discomfort that comes with gas buildup.

Symptoms of Colic in Horses

The symptoms of colic in horses can vary depending on the form of colic and the severity of the case. However, the most typical signs of colic include restlessness, frequent lying down and getting up, and looking at the flank.

You may also notice your horse circling or kicking at their belly. Horses with colic may experience a lack of appetite or may refuse to eat altogether.

They may also show signs of discomfort, such as pawing at the ground or rolling. In severe cases, the horse may become weak and have a difficult time standing.

When to Call a Vet

It’s essential to call your veterinarian as soon as you suspect your horse has colic. Time is of the essence, and early intervention can help avoid more severe complications.

Since the symptoms of colic can rapidly escalate, any reluctance to eat, signs of pain or discomfort, or no bowel movement, are signs that should prompt a quick response. In some cases, horse owners may be able to relieve colic symptoms at home with simple interventions like a walk or keeping water available.

Although these are basic methods, they can help in mild cases, but it’s important to note that these methods don’t always work. In the event that one or more of these methods do not offer any relief, your vet will be able to assess the situation and determine the best course of action.


Colic episodes can be both stressful and dangerous for horses. However, with knowledge about colic and its symptoms, as well as prompt veterinary care, horse owners can improve the chances of a positive outcome.

Keeping an eye on and caring for your horse’s well-being is yet again an example of how vital excellent husbandry and veterinary care is to your horse’s health and longevity. Colic is a condition that can cause significant discomfort and pain in horses and is caused by various factors such as gas buildup, impactions, or obstructions.Most notably, the inability of horses to vomit can exacerbate colic by trapping large amounts of gas in their long digestive tracts, which causes discomfort and pain.

Recognizing the symptoms of colic and calling a veterinarian immediately is essential, and owners can manage and prevent colic by ensuring their horses have a balanced diet, proper hydration, and regular exercise. Therefore, it is vital that every horse owner becomes familiar with the symptoms of colic and how to deal with it promptly and effectively.


Q: What is colic, and what causes it? A: Colic is a condition that causes abdominal pain in horses.

Its leading causes include gas buildup, impactions, or obstructions.

Q: How is the inability to vomit relevant to colic?

A: The inability of horses to vomit increases the chances of colic, trapping large amounts of gas in their long digestive tracts, which can cause discomfort and pain.

Q: How can I recognize the symptoms of colic?

A: Symptoms of colic may include restlessness, frequent lying down and getting up, kicking at the belly, a lack of appetite, and discomfort.

Q: When should I call a vet?

A: Prompt veterinarian care is essential when you recognize symptoms of colic, including signs of pain or discomfort, no bowel movement, or reluctance to eat.

Q: How can I prevent colic in horses?

A: Measures to prevent colic include ensuring horses have an appropriate diet, proper hydration, regular exercise, and avoiding circumstances that can cause stress.

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