As we saw in the previous part of this series, Medical colics are those which can be managed medically, usually on the yard. However, about 1 in 10 cases of colic require emergency referral to an equine hospital for surgery.
This is what most horse owners are terrified of. The general indicators that a horse has a surgical colic are:
1) Heart rate over 60 that isn’t relieved by injectable painkillers.
2) Dilated loops of small intestine on rectal exam
3) Positive stomach reflux from the stomach tube
4) A definite rectal diagnosis of a surgical problem.
5) “Toxic rings” – dark red or purple gums, that indicate that the horse is going into toxic shock.
Of course, it varies between horses, and the vet has to make a judgment call based on all the evidence available.
We also have to talk to the (by now usually frantic) owners about costs. Colic surgery usually costs between £4000 and £5000, but can easily be a lot more. Even if the horse is insured, it is important to check how much the insurance company will cover – there are a couple of companies out there who will only cover part of the costs of emergency surgery. If in doubt, always call your insurer’s helpline.
However, colic surgery is one of the most genuine emergency operations there is – and it can be truly life-saving….