Emergency Colic Care to the Rescue

Dr. Bruise scrubbing in. Photo © Jump Media


One of the most dreaded words in horse care is “colic.” Fear of colic is often in the back of any horse owner’s mind, but Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s emergency colic care offerings can help ease the fear and improve the outcome. 

Characterized by abdominal pain or problems with the gastrointestinal tract, colic is something that often arises unexpectedly and from many different origins. Spoiled feed, abrupt changes in feed, parasite infestation, sand ingestion, lack of water consumption, and even excess stress or changes in the weather are among the numerous factors generally associated with colic.

Whatever the cause of a colic case may be, the most critical tip for successful treatment is the immediate identification of symptoms and involvement of a veterinarian. Unfortunately, colic can be fatal, but early and appropriate treatment significantly improves outcomes and chances of survival.

Common colic signs: 

  • Pawing
  • Rolling
  • Looking at abdomen
  • Sweating
  • Loss of interest in food and water
  • Absence of gut sounds

PBEC’s colic care facilities include a full-service surgical center, intensive care hospital, three board-certified surgeons, primary care veterinarians, and skilled hospital technicians on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“In the last 10 years, colic surgery has come a long, remarkable way,” said PBEC surgeon Dr. Robert Brusie. “With our clients, if the horse needs to go to surgery, we have approximately a 95% success rate. We attribute that to the clients’ excellent care of their horses, as well as their willingness to contact us immediately. That being said, colic surgery is always the last resort. We try to help all horses improve medically first.”

The biggest challenge in the treatment of colic is determining surgical versus non-surgical cases.

“We do not want to put a non-surgical case through the risk of anesthesia and the months of healing time, so we try to spare that at all costs and determine the surgical cases as accurately as we can,” continued Dr. Brusie. “On the flip side, we try to operate as quickly as possible on any horse that needs surgery. Personally, my greatest sense of success is when I see a horse back after surgery going as well or better than it was prior to surgery.”

There are several methods for differentiating surgical cases. Beginning with a simple physical exam, the color of the gums, heart rate, gut sounds, and level of pain can all be supportive of surgical necessity. Additionally, a variety of tests may also include abdominal ultrasounds and rectal exams.

An abdominocentesis (or belly tap) is performed on every questionable colic case, where fluid is collected from around the intestines and analyzed for color and character. A variety of other laboratory tests are also run on the fluid for the purpose of quickly determining if the horse’s bowel is compromised.

Colic with large colon exteriorized. Photo © PBIEC.

If surgery is indeed a necessary step, horses with long-standing and intermittent colic will undergo an abdominal exploratory procedure that may be done with laparoscopy. This option can be done while the horse is standing as a minimally invasive way to examine the full abdomen.

In most acute cases, further steps must be taken and the horse will go under general anesthesia so the surgeon can make as small an incision as possible to perform the needed surgical correction. Surgery addresses a strangulating or compromised lesion – one that most people understand as a twist – and corrects it. In more severe or long-standing cases, the surgery can require a resection and an anastomosis procedure to excise a compromised or devitalized segment of the intestine. 

After any surgery, there is a process of recovery, which PBEC aims to make as easy as possible for its patients and their owners. In traditional recovery, most horses will remain in the hospital to receive fluids until they are ready to eat and drink, along with receiving three to five days of antibiotics and five to seven days of anti-inflammatories.

After leaving the hospital, colic patients are usually placed on one month of stall rest, followed by another month of turn-out in a small paddock. In between eight to 12 weeks, the horse will usually be fully recovered and ready to return to work.

For more information on the PBEC’s emergency colic care services, call 561-793-1599, or visit www.EquineClinic.com today.