UF Equine Veterinarians Share Research at Colic Symposium

From pain management to disease diagnosis to postoperative recovery rates, University of Florida (UF) veterinarians are advancing knowledge about equine colic, the No. 1 cause of premature death in horses. David Freeman, MVB, PhD, Dipl. ACVS; Ali Morton, DVM; Chris Sanchez, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM; Astrid Grosche, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM; Abel Ekiri, BVM, MS; and Johanna Elfenbein, DVM, shared findings from several studies related to this important disease during the 2011 International Equine Colic Research Symposium, held July 26-28 in Indianapolis, Ind.

Colic refers to diseases that cause abdominal pain, often originating from an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract. The sooner colic is treated, either medically or surgically by a veterinarian, the better the chance of survival.

One study by Freeman and his colleagues focused on survival after small intestinal surgery, which can be the most challenging type of colic surgery to complete successfully. The researchers concluded that recovery from a "twisted" small intestine following surgery is far better than previously reported.

"This is significant because this report shows a favorable long-term survival rate after one of the most difficult types of colic surgery, and that this surgery can allow horses to live a full and normal life," Freeman said.

Freeman also reported that long-term recovery after small intestinal surgery for strangulating diseases is affected by the type of disease that causes the problem to occur.

"This type of information allows us to deliver more accurate prognoses, and ultimately to devise treatment plans likely to have better outcomes," Freeman said.

Two studies looked at the effects of various drugs used for pain management in healing of the large intestine after ischemia (lack of blood flow) and in critically ill, hospitalized horses. Researchers concluded that flunixin meglumine (Banamine), a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication that helps control pain and inflammation, can still help manage pain without inhibiting healing of the large intestine.

Another study examined the effects of two analgesics commonly used to treat horses with colic, N-butylscopolammonium bromide (as Buscopan) and xylazine (Rompum), and found that both medications can have effects on heart rate, blood pressure, and intestinal motility and these effects should be taken into consideration when evaluating and treating horses with colic. In another study, the scientists also found that ketamine, a drug used to treat severe pain in horses, slows movement of a test marker through the gut. This knowledge enables improved monitoring and treatment.

In a study looking at the relationship between salmonella infection and colic, researchers found abnormalities in blood values that help predict which horses are infected with these bacteria. This information helps veterinarians initiate appropriate treatment and take necessary precautions to prevent transmission of this dangerous bacterium to other animals.

Finally, researchers presented findings indicating that a high red blood cell count occurs commonly in horses with liver disease. Previously, a high red blood cell count was primarily linked to liver cancer, but the study demonstrated that this finding can occur with many other types of liver disease as well.

The symposium is held once every three years to bring together leading veterinary researchers, practitioners, residents and graduate students from around the world to share knowledge about equine colic.

Anyone seeking more information about the Island Whirl Colic Research Laboratory at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine should call the UF Large Animal Hospital at 352/392-2229.

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