All horse owners are familiar with colic, an abdominal discomfort that can manifest in many different ways. Severe cases require emergency surgery, and can be fatal if not treated immediately. Thankfully for Northern California horse owners, few hospitals are better equipped to diagnose and treat colic than the UC Davis veterinary hospital.

The hospital’s Large Animal Clinic has several equine surgeons who specialize in colic surgeries, including Drs. Julie Dechant, Pablo Espinosa, Isabel Kilcoyne and Jorge Nieto. Survival rates for colic patients have greatly improved over the past 20 years. A retrospective study from 2004-2009 showed that UC Davis maintained a success rate above 90 percent in the nearly 100 colic surgeries it performed each year during that timeframe. This rate was 3 percent higher than the worldwide published data on colic surgeries at that time. Additionally, the hospital is able to treat approximately 70 percent of its patients without the need for surgery at all.

Surgical methods typically involve a manual untwisting of the intestine or possible resection if the twisting has irreparably damaged the intestine. In cases of intestinal blockage in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the objects are surgically removed if the horse is unable to pass the object on its own.

These types of impaction within the GI tract are typically caused by feed, enteroliths, worms, and sand. In addition to impaction, other types of colic include gas colic, intussusception (in which the intestine slides into itself), inflammation of the intestine (called enteritis), gastric rupture, or even a twist in the gut, which is considered one of the most lethal forms of colic.

Fortunately, there are many recognizable signs of colic and a variety of methods for prevention. Signs of colic in horses typically include a reduced appetite, increased time lying down, noticeable abdominal discomfort including biting or kicking towards the flank, frequent rolling, and profuse sweating.

Methods for colic prevention include ensuring the regularity of the horse’s feed and exercise routine, as well as providing clean, fresh water and access to salt at all times. Reducing the horse’s stress by gradually making changes to environment and exercise also decreases the risk for intestinal dysfunction.

However, despite a horse owner’s best efforts to minimize the chance of colic, the unexpected can occur at any time. For this reason, the UC Davis veterinary hospital is available 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays, to meet colic complaints and other emergency needs.

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