Medicating for Equine Colic

When a horse shows signs of colic, his owner should call a veterinarian immediately to ensure that he receives the best treatment for the particular situation. Anthony Blikslager, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, of North Carolina State University, stressed this in his presentation on medicating horses with colic at the Western Veterinary Conference, held Feb. 19-23 in Las Vegas, Nev. He reviewed standard colic analgesics and their uses and described safe guidelines for using new medical treatment options for colic.

Blikslager said evaluating the severity and duration of a horse's colic pain is critical, and the horse's response to standard colic analgesics is very helpful in deciding how to manage colic.

Drug classes for treating colic include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as flunixin; new drugs in the cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2, an enzyme responsible for causing inflammation and pain) inhibitor class; beta-2 agonists (which suppress the stimulatory impulses of adrenaline), including xylazine and detomidine; opiates, including butorphanol; and local anesthetics given systemically, like lidocaine.

Owners should call their practitioners when horses show colic signs, "to establish when colic was first noticed and treated, because this factors heavily into the decision to institute additional critical care or referral for medical and surgical treatment," said Blikslager. "Owners should recognize that although medications for treating colic are generally safe, they must be used cautiously at the correct dose and interval under the direction of their veterinarian. This will result in rapid treatment to alleviate pain, but not delay referral for the few horses in the 'serious' category that often come in to referral hospitals with symptoms of shock."

Colic-associated costs vary by state; in the mid-Atlantic region, colic workup on the farm costs between $200 and $500; but extensive surgery and critical care can cost $6,000 to $8,000. He urged owners to seek major medical insurance where all efforts would be made to save the horse, and noted that colic surgery affects the value of many performance horses for at least six months. You can reduce the ultimate cost by calling a practitioner as soon as possible.

About the Author

Amber Heintzberger

Amber Heintzberger is a journalist, photographer and award-winning author of Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racehorse to Riding Horse (Trafalgar Publishing, 2008). She lives in New York City.

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