Your horse may paw at the ground for several reasons, including boredom, frustration, playfulness or pain. However, pawing at the ground is also a common sign of colic. If this behaviour is out of character for your horse, call your veterinarian immediately.
In horses, pawing at the ground is a relatively common behaviour, particularly at meal times when your horse may be feeling impatient. There are many instances, like this, were pawing shouldn’t cause you any alarm.
What’s important is knowing when this behaviour is an indication of pain.
Pawing is the arching action of your horse’s foreleg which strikes the ground. Most often, pawing that is unusually aggressive or highly repetitive could be a sign of something more sinister, such as stomach pain caused by colic.
Some horses will exhibit several common behaviours when suffering colic, whereas others will show no outward sign at all. The most common signs of colic include:
- Pawing at the ground
- Looking around at the flank
- Frequently laying down and getting up
- Curling the upper lip
- Playing in the water trough, but not drinking
- Keeping the head to ground while walking in circles
- Increased heart rate or breathing rate
- Excessive sweating around the flanks or shoulders
- Loss of interest in food or water
The simplest way to determine if pawing is a sign of pain is by taking your horse’s vitals. These include your horse’s pulse rate, respiratory rate and rectal temperature. You should measure these on a regular basis, so you know what’s normal and abnormal for your horse.
During times of emergency, such as when colic strikes, you should have a copy of these vitals on hand, so you can instantly recognise if there’s a variation. Pawing at the ground, combined with an increased pulse rate, respiratory rate or rectal temperature, means there may, indeed, be a problem.
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