Colicky Horses At Risk For Blood Clots

Horses with colic are at higher risk for developing a life-threatening blood-clotting disorders called disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC. This disorder can cause excessive bleeding or excessive clotting.

Blood clotting is a complex process. When blood vessels are injured by trauma, they release special proteins to create blood clots to stop the bleeding. In addition, the vessels might activate proteins that can initiate the clotting process when bacteria or viruses circulate in the blood.

Colicky horses with severe gastrointestinal disorders, such as strangulations and inflammatory lesions (e.g., torsions, volvuli, anterior enteritis, colitis, peritonitis) and foals with septicemia are at higher risk for DIC, according to Luis Monreal, DVM, PhD, of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain.

"Excessive coagulation in horses with colic is initiated by toxins or shock," said Nathaniel A. White II, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, who commented on Monreal's paper about DIC.

The intensity of DIC depends on the severity and duration of the colic, Monreal said, but the condition needs early treatment. Therefore, it is crucial that owners act quickly if they suspect a horse has colic.

"Coagulation dysfunctions are associated with severe underlying diseases, such as strangulation of the gastrointestinal tract," Monreal said. "Perhaps owners might prevent this dysfunction by calling an equine veterinarian as soon as horses show clinical signs of colic and moving these patients to referral hospitals when severe GI disease is suspected."

DIC can be fatal. Horses require immediate therapy with heparin to try and stop the excessive clotting or bleeding, according to White.

"Once DIC starts, the prognosis is usually poor because of the severity of shock as well as the coagulation abnormality," White said. "Colic needs to be treated early so if shock occurs, it can be treated before it becomes severe.

"Coagulation abnormalities in horses with colic can only be prevented by early recognition of severe colic and early treatment," he emphasized.

The review, "Coagulopathies in Horses with Colic" was published in the August issue of the Veterinary Clinics of North America Equine Practice.

The abstract is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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