Small Intestinal Colic Surgery and Predicting Survival

While surgical correction of colic in horses has been performed at referral hospitals for many years, it has been difficult for horse owners to get reliable information about survival rate. The prospect of extremely expensive colic surgery coupled with weeks and even months of recovery time must be weighed against some idea of whether the horse will survive. For this reason, horse owners need up-to-date statistics on colic surgery survival rates. A study was conducted in Guelph, Ontario, to estimate the short- and long-term survival rates for horses undergoing perhaps the most risky colic surgery--cutting into the small intestine and resecting damaged portions as needed.

Overall survival rate at discharge from the referral hospital in the study was 81% for horses which underwent small intestinal anastomosis (the surgical union of parts). This dropped to 56% at one year after surgery. Adhesions in the abdomen were one of the more common causes of death in the months after surgery. Horses which had a portion of the small intestine removed had slightly reduced short- and long-term survival rates--65% and 47%, respectively. This most likely relates to increased risk of contamination of the abdomen during surgery, and a greater risk of adhesion formation.

Regardless, these survival rates are much improved over those reported 20 years ago. The improvement is likely due to a number of factors, including rapid diagnosis of the problem, use of automated stapling devices, shorter surgical times, and increased experience of the surgeon.

Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 218 (10), 1603-1607, 2001.

About the Author

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD

Susan Piscopo, DVM, PhD, is a free-lance writer in the biomedical sciences. She practiced veterinary medicine in North Carolina before accepting a fellowship to pursue a PhD in physiology at North Carolina State University. She lives in northern New Jersey with her husband and two sons.

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