Colic Surgery

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Colic is a general term referring to any sort of problem with the horse’s gastrointestinal tract. In the majority of cases, horses with signs of colic will resolve with just medical treatment. However, in some cases, emergency surgery is required to correct the twist or entrapment of the intestines. Time is of the essence for these horses; often, the blood supply to the intestine is compromised, making it important to correct the problem quickly.

Billy’s owners noticed her showing signs of discomfort after riding her that evening. She was sweating, agitated, and wanting to go down. On initial exam in clinic, she had several distended loops of small intestine palpable on rectal exam; this finding was confirmed on ultrasound examination of the abdomen. An abdominocentesis was performed to collect a sample of the fluid in the abdomen. The lactate in this sample was higher than the lactate in her bloodstream, indicating compromise to the intestines. With these findings, we determined that surgery was the best option for Billy.

At surgery, we found that Billy had a large colon volvulus (also known as a ‘twist’), which was causing feed material to impact in the ileum (the last part of the small intestine). Due to this impaction, no fluid was able to move through the small intestine into the large colon, and so the entire small intestine was distended with fluid.

To resolve the problem, the colon was untwisted and the impaction broken down and moved into the cecum. The majority of the fluid in the small intestine was also moved down into the cecum.

Billy recovered well, staying in hospital for 5 days. She was initially on intravenous fluids and intravenous antibiotics, which were stopped as she recovered and her bloodwork stabilized. By the time she went home, she was off all medications and eating her normal hay ration.

Postoperative instructions were for Billy to remain on stall rest for 30 days, and then spend 30 days in a small paddock before moving to pasture for 30 days. After this time, she can resume her normal training. Because the colic surgery incision is made underneath the abdomen, stall rest is important postoperatively to allow this incision to heal properly.

I find colic surgery one of the most satisfying aspects of equine veterinary medicine - there is nothing better than when you can truly save a life. Billy was a fabulous patient, and I fully anticipate seeing her back in the cutting pen in the spring!

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We are very thankful to the staff at Burwash Equine for their hard work and dedication that saved our cutting horse mare (Billy) from a dangerous colic. We came in after hours (of course!) and were greeted by Dr. Kirby and two other staff members that immediately began to diagnose Billy and work to relieve her stress. They were very straightforward and honest about what we were dealing with and looked for the best solution. Unfortunately we had to go to surgery but we were confident that Dr. Kirby and Dr. Crystal would do everything they could to save the horse. They left a message after a very late night of surgery telling us Billy had come through it with flying colours and was in recovery. She responded very well to the surgery and after a couple of days was able to be taken off her IV’s. The new facility is extremely well equipped and the entire staff took excellent care of Billy. She was able to come home after 6 days and is on her war to a full recovery. We have nothing but praise for how the event was handled and while we were very worried how this would play out, the high standard of care and very skilled and caring staff ensured that Billy will be cutting again next Spring. We are extremely grateful and will recommend Burwash Equine to everyone we know! 

Kindest regards,

Bob & Patty Lee….and Billy!

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