Common Colic Myths Debunked

The signs of colic are well-known to many horse owners: abdominal discomfort shown by pawing, kicking at the belly, repeatedly rolling, sweating and increased heart and respiration rate. Though colic is unfortunately common in horses, only about 10 percent of colic cases require surgical intervention to resolve.

Colic surgery can seem scary, but improvements in the past few decades have lessened the chance of a negative outcome, reports The Horse. Yet, myths regarding colic surgery remain. Dr. Jacqueline Hill, who practices at Littleton Equine Medical Center in Colorado, dispels some of the most common colic surgery myths.

Myth 1: A horse will never return to pre-surgery performance levels. Though colic surgery is a major surgery with a long recover period, horses can go back to their pre-surgery performance levels. A study that used over 200 horses of different breeds found that 84 percent of the horses returned to their discipline after colic surgery and that 79 percent were performing at or above the level they were at before the surgery.

Myth 2: A horse can be “too old” for colic surgery. The life expectancy for horses, like humans, has lengthened in the last few decades, with many horses ridden well into their 20s. A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania compared horses between 4 and 15 years old that had colic surgery with horses that were over 20 that had colic surgery. They found that both categories had similar post-operative complications and survival rates.

Myth 3: A horse is never the same after having a resection. Horses tend to fare differently depending on the section of intestine that has been resected: horses that have had their small intestine resected tend to fare better than those that have had the end of the intestine resected. It was recently reported that horses that have had their large colon resected have 65 to 75 percent long-term survival rates; small-intestine only resections see up to 75 percent of patients with long-term success.

More evidence is needed to resolve the myth that horses that have had colic surgery are more prone to colicking again. Studies have reported that between 0 to 35 percent of post-surgical horses have another colic episode within 12 months of a colic surgery. Factors that appear to affect this include what portion of the bowel was affected and what surgical procedure was used. Generally, if a horse doesn’t colic in the first year after surgery, his risk of colicking again is similar to a horse that didn’t have surgery.

Read more at The Horse.

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