Sporting Activity After Colic Surgery in Horses (AAEP 2011)

Sporting Activity After Colic Surgery in Horses (AAEP 2011)

Historically there has been very little long-term data regarding colic surgery outcomes and very few reports address owner satisfaction. This recent study suggests most horses are able to successfully return to their prior athletic function.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

The decision on whether to take a horse to colic surgery is one that's generally based on both prognosis and financial considerations. Thus, an equine surgeon must be able to counsel horse owners on the expected surgical outcome and required convalescence following hospital discharge so a timely decision can be made. At the 2011 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Nov. 18-22 in San Antonio, Texas, Mogens Christophersen, DVM, of the University of Copenhagen, presented information about anticipated return of horses to sporting activities following colic surgery. He stressed that while there are short-term studies on colic surgery outcomes, historically there has been very little long-term data and very few reports address owner satisfaction.

Christophersen explained that in the current study he and colleagues evaluated four characteristics of horses undergoing colic surgery from 2005 to 2010: 1) long-term survival rate; 2) return to athletic activity at a level similar to each horse's prior level; 3) performance quality upon return to athletic activity; and 4) owner satisfaction with the results. The majority of the cases involved surgical correction of large intestinal lesions, with a total (both small and large intestine) of 46% undergoing intestinal opening of the bowel (enterotomy) for emptying of content or resection (rejoining of intestine following removal of a portion of bowel). Investigators used a telephone questionnaire to interview owners of 79 horses that met the criteria of surviving for at least six months following colic surgery.

"Survival rates at six, 12, 24, 36, 48, and 60 months were 95.3%, 86.6%, 80.9%, 76.9%, 62.1%, and 57.6% respectively," reported Christophersen. Of the 79 horses, 68 (86.1%) resumed sporting activity after colic surgery. Of these, owners believed that 83.5% were able to return to the same performance quality or better. Owner satisfaction about the post-surgical outcome approached 90%, with owners stating that they would consider or agree to pursue colic surgery again despite the expensive price tag and extended convalescence time.

Christophersen remarked that age did not play a significant factor in post-surgical sporting performance, however horses were less likely to return successfully to desired athletic performance if the surgical incision developed complications, such as a hernia at or near the incision site.

Christophersen also noted that known survival outcomes might vary widely among different surgical hospitals. In light of this, he stressed that it is important for practitioners to evaluate success rates at their own facilities so they can communicate accurate expectations to their clients.

Reference: CHRISTOPHERSEN, M. T., TNIBAR, A., PIHL, T. H., ANDERSEN, P. H. and EKSTRØM, C. T. (2011), Sporting activity following colic surgery in horses: A retrospective study. Equine Veterinary Journal, 43: 3-6. doi: 10.1111/j.2042-3306.2011.00490.x

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her recent book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care (available at or by calling 800/582-5604). She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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