Ultrasonography for Evaluating Colic Cases?

Ultrasonography for Evaluating Colic Cases?

Ultrasounding a colicky horse could help identify gastrointestinal disease and differentiate between medical and surgical cases.

Photo: Photos.com

Colic is the No. 1 cause of death in horses, and most owners understand the urgency of the condition and quickly consult their veterinarian. Veterinarians must then assess a colicky horse to determine if it can be treated medically or if surgery is the only option for survival.

The degree of pain, color of peritoneal (abdominal) fluid, and rectal temperature can serve as indicators as to which type of treatment is needed, but according to a recent retrospective study performed in Italy, led by Francesca Beccati, DVM, of the University of Perugia's Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH), ultrasonography might be a faster and more reliable tool for diagnosing both small and large intestinal diseases and differentiating between medical and surgical colic cases.

"Ultrasound examination is a direct, easy-to-perform, noninvasive method that gives immediate information," Beccati said.

The researchers evaluated the correlations between abdominal ultrasound findings and causes of colic identified during surgery or in postmortem examination of 158 horses admitted to the VTH in Italy between January 2006 and November 2010.

Ultrasound was used as part of each horse's initial examination to view the abdominal organs and to determine the amount of peritoneal fluid, which often increases due congested blood vessels in the abdomen.

The study results indicated that ultrasound findings correlated with many of the diagnoses made through surgery or postmortem evaluation. Key findings included:

  • Increased peritoneal fluid, decreased duodenum (first section of small intestine [SI]) motility, SI enlargement, and absence of motility in SI loops were all significantly associated with strangulating obstructions of the SI;
  • Thickness and absent motility of the large colon (LC) were significantly associated with strangulating LC volvulus (twists); and
  • Enlargement of the LC and absent visualization of the left kidney were significantly associated with renosplenic entrapment, "in which the LC migrates between the spleen and the body wall and becomes caught over the nephrosplenic ligament."

Beccati emphasized, "Ultrasound could be more rapid and complete than other methods to identify horses which need surgery; however, a good clinical examination is very important, and the results of the clinical examination and ultrasound should be used in conjunction."

The study, "Is there a statistical correlation between ultrasonographic findings and definitive diagnosis in horses with acute abdominal pain," was published in the August 2011 issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal. The abstract is available online.

About the Author

Casie Bazay, NBCAAM

Casie Bazay holds a bachelor of science degree in education from Oklahoma State University. She taught middle school for ten years, but now is a nationally certified equine acupressure practitioner and freelance writer. She has owned Quarter Horses nearly her entire life and has participated in a variety of horse events including Western and English pleasure, trail riding, and speed events. She was a competitive barrel racer for many years and hopes to pursue the sport again soon.

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