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Updated 2/24/08

Colic Surgery at Thal Equine

WHAT IS COLIC?

Colic is a general term that refers to a horse’s way of showing abdominal pain, which can be caused by any of a large number of possible problems in the abdomen, mostly related to the intestine, but sometimes not.  There are two general classes of intestinal colic:  

Intestinal dysfunction.  This category includes many conditions including colitis (inflammation of the colon), parasite damage, primary gas distension, and spasmodic colic. Most of these colic types are treated medically, not surgically. Many horses with mild intestinal dysfunction resolve with conservative treatment. These are the horses that may be “fixed” by a shot of banamine. Problems involving intestinal dysfunction are much more common than those involving intestinal accidents.  

Intestinal accidents.  This category includes physical obstruction of the intestine from impaction, displacement, entrapment or torsion of any of the many parts of the intestine.

COLIC PAIN

Colic pain is shown by many behaviors unique to a horse. Examples from mild to severe include curling the upper lip, grinding the teeth, stretching, looking at the side, lying down, rolling, kicking at the belly, pawing, and other signs. It is impossible to tell from the severity of pain what type of problem is causing colic. Sometimes, more severe pain is associated with more severe problems, but this is not always the case.

DIAGNOSIS

The goal of the veterinary examination is to try and determine the specific cause of the colic. Once this diagnosis is made, a treatment plan can be formulated and a prognosis given. We use the degree and duration of pain, the results of a physical exam, response to treatment, rectal exam, blood work, abdominal tap and other diagnostics to form a picture of what we think is happening.

Surgical opening of the abdomen (exploratory laparotomy) is described as “the ultimate diagnostic tool.” Until we explore the abdomen, we can only make an educated guess as to what is causing a horse colic pain. It is not unusual to be surprised when we open the abdomen and sometimes we find multiple related (or unrelated) problems.

THE DECISION FOR COLIC SURGERY

If you are considering surgery, and your horse is insured, you need to notify your insurance company immediately.  

The decision for colic surgery should not be taken lightly. Colic surgery is a major undertaking for all involved. The better informed you are, the better the experience will be for everyone.

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