South Shore Equine Clinic & Diagnostic Center
Equine Veterinary Services South Shore Boston Massachusetts

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How do I know when I need to send a horse with colic to your hospital versus treating it at the farm?


Before answering your question, let’s first review what the term "colic" means. The term "colic" refers to abdominal pain. Of course, abdominal pain can be a result of many things including kidney disease, peritonitis, and estrus (in mares). In horses, we typically use the term colic to describe pain associated with intestinal obstruction and/or distension. Obstruction can occur subsequent to impaction, displacement, torsion (twisting), entrapment, strangulation, and/or incarceration (trapping) of intestine(s). Regardless of the cause of obstruction, the inability of ingesta to move at a normal rate results in excessive gas production and fluid accumulation. This in turn causes intestinal distension and pain (colic).

In some cases of severe obstruction, vascular occlusion can occur. Consequently, a portion of intestine does not receive an adequate supply of blood (and therefore not enough oxygen and nutrients). Endotoxins are absorbed through compromised bowel wall into the bloodstream. Since this condition (called endotoxemia) is life-threatening, surgery is indicated to prevent/treat decreased blood flow and compromise of affected bowel.

Endotoxemia usually manifests as increased heart rate, compromised mucous membrane color, and/or moderate to severe persistent pain. The presence of any of these symptoms justifies sending your horse to a surgical hospital, particularly if your horse has been refractory to conservative treatment.

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