By J.R. Snyder, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVS, Chief of Equine Surgery & Lameness, Professor, University of California, Davis
Death from colic is twice as high as other diseases, including trauma, in a normal farm population. Colic signs can be derived from either the intestinal tract of a horse or from non-intestinal causes. Non-intestinal causes may include: tying up, founder (laminitis), pneumonia-pleuritis, ruptured bladder in foals, uterine torsion, heart failure, urinary stones. Intestinal causes include: distension of the intestine, obstruction of the intestine (feed impaction, round worm impaction, enterolith, sand, foreign body), strangulation of the intestine, gastric ulcers.
Questions to consider:
- Which horses would be considered for surgery?
- How much money are you prepared to spend?
- How will you transport the horse and to what hospital will you take him?
- Will your insurance policy (if any) cover surgery?
- Who is responsible for making decisions in your absence?
Initial steps for your horse:
- Remove all food and water.
- Notify your veterinarian.
- Keep the horse as calm and comfortable as possible.
- If horse is rolling or behaving violently, attempt to walk slowly.
- It’s ok to let the horse roll as long as it’s safe!
- Do not administer any drugs unless specifically directed to do so by your veterinarian.
- Follow your veterinarian’s advice.
What a veterinarian might ask for on the phone:
- Pulse rate
- Respiratory rate
- Rectal temperature
- Color of mucus membranes
- Capillary refill time
- Behavioral signs
- Gut motility noises
- Bowel movements
- Changes in management
- Medical history
- Insurance status
What your veterinarian may do at the farm:
- Complete physical examination
- Pass a stomach tube
- Rectal examination
- Blood tests
- Abdominal tap
- Administer analgesics or sedatives
- Administer laxatives
If the above treatments do not improve the horse’s condition, your veterinarian may suggest sending the horse to a referral hospital. At the hospital a surgeon may recommend advanced diagnostic techniques or exploratory surgery. After surgical intervention, the horse will receive intensive care including the following:
- Intravenous fluids
- Slow re-introduction to feed
The risks of surgical intervention include:
- Endotoxic shock
- Hernia of the abdominal wall
- Laminitis (founder)
Prevention of Colic
The following tips may help prevent colic in your horses:
- Provide a constant source of fresh drinking water.
- Maintain at least 60% forage in the horse’s diet.
- Feed grain only as needed for weight and performance.
- Avoid rapid changes in feed.
- Provide routine and regular exercise every day.
- Develop a parasite control program with your veterinarian’s help.
- Maintain proper dental care.
- Minimize transportation stress.
- Develop a feed program to aid in the prevention of enteroliths.
- Control sand problems.
- If necessary, use medications to manage horses with gastric ulcers.
Colic - "California Style" by J.R. Snyder, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVS, Chief of Equine Surgery & Lameness, Professor, University of California, Davis