One of the most common equine emergencies today involves horses suffering from colic. Four of every 100 horses suffer from the condition each year and luckily, in most instances, no surgery is required. However, between 7 - 10% of these cases involve lesions which only surgery can correct.
With this in mind, a veterinarian will need to be thorough while evaluating a colicky horse before deciding whether it will go under the knife. Diana M. Hassel, Ph.D., DVM, Dipl. ACVECC, ACVS has recently reviewed the methods used by veterinarians to determine if an affected horse should undergo surgery.
Even before the evaluation begins, the veterinarian needs to be aware that an owner is open to sending their horse to a referral institution should the need arise. This is essential to minimize any delays that could negatively affect the prognosis of a horse needing surgery.
Next, veterinarians are advised to carry out a thorough physical exam. According to Hassel and her colleagues, this action will obtain invaluable information that helps decide whether a referral is needed. The exam should be extensive enough to comprise amongst other tests, the passage of a nasogastric tube exam and a rectal palpation.
A vet can also extensively sample the abdominal fluids (abdominocentesis), blood glucose concentration, a transabdominal ultrasonography, a lactate analysis of abdominal fluids and/or the peripheral blood (blood in the extremities) as tools to guide the diagnosis on whether to recommend a surgical referral.
Hassel notes, however, that though most of the factors described above are common, they are still scarcely used in practice. An abdominal ultrasound’s value to early diagnosis of several equine disorders is exceptionally high, yet it is not used routinely by a majority of practitioners.
In conclusion, Hassel’s advice to owners of a colicky horse is to immediately call your veterinarian and describe the symptoms your horse is exhibiting when you find your horse acting colicky. This is because in cases that would require surgery, early and quick detection plus referral are essential to a smooth recovery.
The above study, "Evaluation of the colic in horses: decisions for referral," was first published in The Veterinary Clinics of North America Equine Practice.
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