Colic treatment delays can be deadly

A study confirms that quick treatment in specific cases of colic is essential to recovery.

A study confirms that delays can be deadly when it comes to treating colic involving a so-called “twisted gut.”

A horse lying down in a stall, looking as if he has colic.
Data showed survival of “twisted gut” colics is influenced greatly by the amount of time between onset of signs and initiation of treatment.

In a joint effort between Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital and Colorado State University, researchers reviewed records from 896 broodmares treated for large colon volvulus, a painful type of colic in which the intestine twists on itself. The cases spanned a 25-year period.

“Large colon volvulus is a common cause of colic in Kentucky broodmares around the time of foaling, and this made for a good group of horses to study this disease,” says Eileen Hackett, DVM. “However, this problem can affect many different breeds of horses all over the world, and as the lesion is identical, it is likely that the findings from this study are relevant to all horses.”

The data showed that the overall survival rate was 88 percent, but outcomes depended largely on the amount of time between onset of signs and initiation of treatment. Mares who had been colicking for two to four hours prior to arriving at the clinic were three times less likely to survive than were those admitted within two hours of the appearance of colic signs. Further, horses colicking four or more hours were nearly 12 times less likely to survive than were those who arrived at the clinic within the first two hours.

Hackett explains that the longer this type of colic persists, the more physiological damage occurs. “Large colon volvulus is a tight twist in the colon that affects the blood supply to this organ. Shock, organ damage and other complications increase the longer that blood flow is interrupted.”

Because they were broodmares, the study horses were closely monitored, but Hackett says when it comes to colic, a watchful eye and quick decisions are beneficial to any horse, particularly when the signs indicate a possible twist. “Based on this study, the best survival rates are in horses with colic duration less than two hours,” she says. “And this should be the goal when faced with this disease.”

Reference: “Duration of disease influences survival to discharge of Thoroughbred mares with surgically treated large colon volvulus,” Equine Veterinary Journal, September 2014

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #448,




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