Equine Colic Exams

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DR ANDY KANEPS: I’m Dr. Andy
Kaneps of Kaneps Equine. Today, we’ll discuss a colic
examination of your horse. Colic is a manifestation
of abdominal pain, and it can take
many, many forms. It can be anything
from your horse curling its upper lip,
to looking at its flank, to severe pain where the
horse is unable to stand up, is sweating, and throwing
itself down on the ground. It’s very important that you
understand the signs of colic and when you need to call
your veterinarian for an exam. Any time a horse is
showing abnormal behavior localized to the belly, we
have to suspect abdominal pain and colic. The first steps you
need to take if you see that are to pull away the
hay and any other feed present and watch the
horse a little bit. Taking the horse for just a
brief walk may be very helpful, but excessive walking without
an exam is not a good idea. If your horse continues to
show abdominal discomfort, you need to call out your
veterinarian for an exam. The veterinarian will
assess your horse’s level of discomfort. If it’s mild, you
and the veterinarian will discuss the
history to determine if there have been any
changes in the horse’s diet, any changes in hay source– changes in the weather sometimes
can be associated with colic. Also, determining
whether your horse has drank its normal quantity
of water that day is important. The veterinarian
will then take steps to assess the general
well-being of your horse with a focus on the
abdominal organs. We take a temperature,
pulse, and respiratory rate, and evaluate
cardiovascular function by looking at the gums,
assessing gum color and moisture, and
capillary refill time to assess perfusion or
circulation of the horse. From there, the veterinarian
will assess gut motility by listening to the abdomen. Normally, there’s characteristic
large sounds in the normally functioning intestinal tract. Either hyper function
or lack of function when listening to the belly
are abnormal and will be recorded by your veterinarian. From there, depending, again,
on the level of discomfort the horse has, your
veterinarian may choose to pass a nasal
gastric tube or stomach tube by taking a flexible
tube down the nose and into the stomach. Doing this is both
diagnostic and therapeutic. If, for example, when the tube
is passed into the stomach a large amount of feed material
or fluid comes out the tube, that shows that the stomach is
distending and isn’t emptying. Decompression of
the stomach, then, can be really quite helpful
to the horse’s pain level. If there is no fluid
coming back on the tube, your veterinarian may choose
to pump fluids alone or fluids with electrolytes or
mineral oil down the tube. Putting fluid material
down into the stomach helps stimulate colon motility;
so it can be very therapeutic. Then mineral oil or
water into the stomach can help lubricate and
moisten the fecal content and help encourage its passage. A next step of most colic
exams is rectal palpation of the abdominal organs. By reaching and
feeling the contents of the abdomen
through a rectal exam, your veterinarian can
tell whether or not there may be an impaction,
such as a distended portion of intestine with
feed material, or gas in the intestinal
tract, which may indicate a complete or
partial obstruction. And that information
is added to our record in the full assessment
of the horse. A more broad spectrum evaluation
of the abdominal contents can be done under
certain circumstances with an ultrasound exam
with the ultrasound probe being placed in various
parts of the abdomen to assess distention
or lack thereof of the intestinal tract,
whether or not the bowel wall or intestinal wall is thickened,
and looking for excess fluid, or even the possibility
of hemorrhage in the abdominal cavity itself. Your veterinarian may
also obtain blood samples for laboratory testing,
and these blood samples are commonly evaluated for
PCV or hematocrit, which is an indicator of hydration
or dehydration and, also, total protein
content, which helps us assess those same factors. We can also test for
various enzymes that may indicate
inflammation and help us identify the potential
cause of the abdominal pain. Once the complete
examination is finished, your veterinarian will make
decisions on treatment. That treatment may involve use
of a mild intravenous sedative or administration
of other medications that may reduce spasm
of the intestine or act as an anti-inflammatory
to reduce discomfort. Also, as I said earlier,
treating the horse with either fluids or
oil down the stomach tube would be considered
part of the treatment. The horse is usually assessed
for a period of time on farm, and most horses respond
to very straightforward, low-key treatment. If your horse doesn’t respond
to the initial, relatively low-key medical treatment,
more intense treatment and examination may be
required at a referral center. If that is undertaken, the
horse is prepared for shipment by making sure that, if needed,
a stomach tube is in place and, also, that correct levels
of medication and pain relief are on board for the trip. The goal is to have your
horse shipped safely to the referral center. Once at the referral center,
a more detailed examination may be undertaken, and
the horse may or may not be put on more intense
medical therapy, such as intravenous
fluid therapy. If the horse fails to respond
to this more intense level of medical therapy,
surgery may be indicated. Those approaches
are only undertaken when medical therapy is
not effective in stopping your horse’s discomfort. In summary, it’s very
important for you to understand even the
mild signs of colic so you can enlist the aid of
your veterinarian if needed. At minimum, consult
with your veterinarian, describe the signs
your horse is showing, and your veterinarian will
determine whether or not a more detailed
on-farm exam is needed. For further information
about signs of abdominal pain and other issues
related to the abdomen, take a look at the SmartPak
Horse Health Library.

 

3 Responses

  1. Lucileide A Chagas

    May 14, 2019 6:18 pm

    Explain Perfect. Hi I'm from Brazilian student of veterinary medicine, looking for externship/internship.

    Reply

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