Colic: Blood Glucose Test Might Aid Vets

Blood glucose tests might provide useful information to veterinarians treating horses with severe, persistent colic, potentially helping them to predict the severity of the horse’s condition and its chance of survival.

Colicking horses with high blood glucose levels might be more likely to die than horses with lower blood glucose levels, said authors of a new study. The researchers looked at medical records of 228 horses with colic.

Normal blood glucose levels are around 70-135 mg/dL. The average of all glucose values in the 228 horses with colic in the study was 153 mg/dL, and the average value for the 39 horses that died was 234 mg/dL, said study co-author Diana M. Hassel, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, ACVECC, assistant professor in Equine Emergency Surgery and Critical Care at Colorado State University.

"Over the past decade, I routinely noticed that horses with severe colic tended to have high blood glucose values," Hassel said. "This study was a logical first step to investigate the importance of blood glucose levels in sick horses."

Other factors significantly associated with an increased risk of death were level of pain at time of admission and certain diagnoses, such as strangulated bowel or intestinal perforations.

"At this point, the blood glucose values only serve as a marker to assess severity of disease and perhaps assist with prognosis," she said, noting more research is needed to see if veterinarians can improve survival by controlling blood glucose using insulin infusions in critically ill equine patients as is sometimes done for critically ill people.

The study, "Association between hyperglycemia and survival in 228 horses with acute gastrointestinal disease," was published online in September ahead of print in the Journal of Veterinary Medicine. The abstract is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Marie Rosenthal, MS

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