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Is Horse Surgery a Treatment Option For Equine Colic and Impaction?

Anytime that your horse needs veterinary attention you are likely to wonder about the safety and further health of your animal. Yet when surgery is indicated, added worries can compound the decision making process. A bout of colic might cause you to be forced to revisit these thoughts! Colic is a rather generic term which encompasses many kinds of intestinal discomfort. Such conditions may range from infections of the intestines to blockage of the gut and build-up of dried fecal matter.
The symptoms of colic are usually easy to spot: the horse has most likely stopped eating, it may be lying down on the ground to paw, its heart rate is noticeably elevated, and the color of the gums may be light pink, bright red, of bluish purple. Sounds emanating from the gut may indicate an increase in gas, while a complete lack of sounds may point to a solid blockage of the intestine.

The first course of action to take when colic is believed to be present is a thorough physical exam, which you should initiate as soon as possible.

 Evaluate the animal’s heart rate, the sounds of the gut, the color of the gums, and then contact your veterinarian with your findings. Your horse’s health care professional may prescribe a pain reliever and also an intestinal muscle relaxant to help move out any fecal matter. In many cases, this treatment will alleviate the condition and your horse will be fine.

Horse at hospital with surgeonIf the horse does not respond to this treatment, however, the veterinarian will likely perform an exam himself, and then more powerful pain relievers may be prescribed. In addition to the foregoing, it will most likely be necessary to remove excess gas and fluid build up from the horse’s stomach via a tube the vet will carefully introduce into the horse’s stomach through its nostril. This decompression is most often the appropriate and successful solution to more stubborn cases of colic. A rectal exam will confirm the presence of dried fecal matter, other blockages, or even an abnormal placement of the intestines. The veterinarian should be able to give you a detailed description of the colic’s causes and the treatment options, after the examination is over.

Should your horse’s colic still be present even after the described measures, surgery may be the only indicated option. You must realize that time is of the essence when surgery is the only answer to colic, and getting your horse to the clinic must be accomplished quickly. Upon arrival at the clinic, the horse will receive yet another physical exam, but blood tests will also be taken to get important information on hydration and possible infection. If your horse is found to be dehydrated, intravenous fluids will be introduced to help alleviate the pain and help the blockage to hydrate and move out.

If hydration does not cure the colic, or if it is found that gut damage has caused fecal matter to leak into the belly, then surgery will be indicated. The horse will be prepared for surgery and anesthetized. Once the surgeon has opened the abdomen, there are several treatment options available. For example, if a portion of the intestine moved to the wrong spot because of gas build-up, the surgeon will be able to remove the gas and the intestine will once again be placed in its proper location. Twisted intestines can be straightened and put back in position. Damaged portions of the intestines can be cut out and remaining intestines will be reconnected. In a small number of cases, this option is not available because of the location of the ruptured intestine, and the horse will not be able to be helped. Yet, this is a rather rare occurrence! If indicated, the surgeon may also flush out any hard fecal matter. After the surgery, the animal’s abdomen is closed up, with recovery taking up to ten weeks. Your veterinarian may discuss a special diet in keeping with the particulars of the case, to help the gut to heal and to also prevent this colic from recurring.

Read the next horse health tips article on Colic Diagnosis.
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