Old Horse Colicking? Consider Surgery a Viable Option

Geriatric horses have lower survival rates than younger horses following exploratory colic surgery, but there's no significant difference in long term survival rates between age groups, report Florida equine veterinarians in a new study. Most horses discharged post-surgically were still alive one year later, regardless of their age.

Since many horse owners approach colic surgery with trepidation and age is often a consideration for owners when deciding whether or not to proceed with colic surgery, Kathryn Krista, DVM and Leann Kuebelbeck, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, collected 10 years worth of data on both geriatric (20 years of age or older) and non-geriatric horses undergoing colic surgery from the Surgi-Care Center for Horses in Brandon, Fla.

"Of the horses that survive surgery and recover from general anesthesia, survival rates in geriatric and non-geriatric horses were 82% and 89%, respectively."
--Dr. Kathryn Krista

While the authors hypothesized that no difference in surgical rates between the two groups of horses would exist, they were only partially correct.

"The survival rate at the time of hospital discharge for geriatric horses was 50% which was significantly lower than the 72% survival rate in non-geriatric horses," said study co-author Krista. "This difference in survival rates was thought to be due to the higher number of horses euthanized during surgery."

While this finding is not particularly encouraging for owners of geriatric horses, additional data generated by this study is not as bleak.

"Of the horses that survive surgery and recover from general anesthesia, survival rates in geriatric and non-geriatric horses were 82% and 89%, respectively,' said Krista. "This difference was not significantly different. Further, no difference in survival rates one year post-surgically was noted.

"The information obtained from this study may serve as an important reference for veterinarians to share with the owners of geriatric horses as they are trying to make the difficult decision about whether to pursue surgery as treatment for colic," she noted.

The study, "Comparison of survival rates for geriatric horses versus nongeriatric horses following exploratory celiotomy for colic," was published in the November 1, 2009, edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The abstract is available on PubMed.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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