Colic Awareness Month- How to Diagnose Colic?

Part 2

How to diagnose colic?


Diagnosing the exact cause of colic can be very tricky and is best left to your veterinarian. The most important thing when diagnosing colic is determining if the cause of colic is likely to be surgical or non-surgical as time is of the essence in treating a horse with colic.

One of the first things your veterinarian will do is perform a complete physical examination of your horse, this helps determine the seriousness of the colic and how compromised the horses’ system may be. A rectal examination may also be performed at this point if it is safe to do so. A rectal exam can only safely be performed (for both the horse and the veterinarian) if the horse is restrained in a mare crush. Rectal examinations can provide the veterinarian vast information about the location and condition of the gut and abdominal organs.

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At this point your veterinarian will pass a stomach tube via the nostril down into the stomach, this is a very important step in horses with severe colic as horses are physiologically unable to vomit. If there is a problem with the small intestine such as a blockage or twist, the stomach will not empty which can lead to rupture of the stomach which is invariably fatal. Your veterinarian will then make sure that there is no gastric reflux. Gastric reflux is when the contents of the stomach (feed, fluid and gas) is expelled from the vet end of the stomach tube. Gastric reflux is an indication that there is a significant issue with the small intestine, these horses ideally need to be sent to a referral hospital for further workup and regular decompression of the stomach.

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If it is determined that the horse does not require immediate surgery, most horses will then be treated with certain medications to control pain. Most horses with mild colic will respond to medication alone and will return to normal within 24 hours. Horses that “break through” the medication, as in continue showing colic signs, need to be referred to an equine hospital, it is highly likely that these horses will need ongoing management in the form of continued medication and/or surgery.

Once at a referral hospital, the horse may undergo more extensive testing such as ultrasound of the abdomen and blood and abdominal fluid tests. Even with the best and most sophisticated diagnostics, sometimes the cause of colic cannot be determined until the horse is taken to surgery for an exploratory laparotomy.

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Zoe MeyerComment