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Methods of diagnosis, treatment and prevention of colic in horses


If you notice strange behavior in your horse, for example, constant tumbling, hoofs hitting the ground or kicking the abdomen, refusal to eat and water, then colic can occur. Like abdominal pain in humans, colic is quite common, but it can lead to serious problems with the gastrointestinal tract of the horse or pony and, without treatment, can endanger the life of the animal. It is important to identify and cure this disease before it gets out of hand.

Causes of Colic

Horses in comparison with other animals and humans suffer much more from pathologies of the digestive system. However, most diseases are accompanied by a severe pain syndrome called colic. Various etiological factors can lead to them.

Features of the anatomical structure, leading to infringement of the intestine, its twisting, intussusception and other typical pathologies:

  • the horse’s stomach is relatively small in relation to the intestines,
  • the mesenteric ligament is long, not firmly fixed, mobile,
  • narrowing in the places of transition from the cecum to the ileum, from the ascending to the descending knee of the colon,
  • movable, not fixed by ligaments bend of the colon.

The abdominal cavity of the horse is a "popular" site for the localization of parasites of various stages of development. Helminths, insect larvae and protozoa affect the gastrointestinal mucosa, abdominal wall, mesentery, ligamentous apparatus, and peritoneum. This leads to severe pain irritation, lack of local blood circulation and nutrition, impaired organ function, thrombosis. The most common parasites:

  • cestodes (Anaplacephala perfoliata) are localized in the cecum, causing focal necrosis, dystrophy and perforation. Common anemia is often noted,
  • adult and larvae of Ascaris (Paraskaris equorum), affecting the gastrointestinal mucosa during migration and vital activity,
  • nematodes of the genera Strongylidae and Trichonematidae, which during larval development and maturation damage the vessels of the mesentery and intestines,
  • larval stages of gadfly (Gastrophilus) stages 2 and 3 develop in the stomach and duodenum.

A significant role in the development of pathologies is played by the nervous system. Under heavy load, stress, after transportation, changes in the environment, changes in the weather and microclimate of the horse stall, the protective reaction decreases, the tone of the nervous system decreases, which causes a violation of the gastrointestinal tract innervation. The decrease in resistance that accompanies a stressful state contributes to the suppression of the protective and compensatory forces of the body, provoking the development of ulcers, inflammatory processes in the intestine.

The development of colic in horses is often associated with hereditary and acquired pathologies of the organs of the abdominal cavity and itself. Often pain syndrome is observed in animals with the following deviations:

  • rupture of ligaments and mesentery,
  • intestinal tumors
  • congenital diverticulum of the ileum,
  • inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract against the background of the introduction of medications and other allergens,
  • degenerative changes in the intestines as a result of aging.

Content and feeding play an equally important role in the etiology and pathogenesis of colic (as well as any other diseases). Constant stay in the stall, lack of systematic training, increased workloads, abundant feeding with fermented feeds, the supply of low-nutrient foods (straw) in large volumes, non-compliance with the feeding and drinking regimen lead to primary pathologies of the stomach and intestines.

Pathology Detection Methods

Colic cannot be called an independent disease. This is a complex of symptoms manifested in horses with various pathologies, the actions of a number of factors. Most colic is accompanied by diseases of the stomach, intestines and mesentery. Very rarely, the syndrome is caused by disorders in the kidneys, liver and other organs.

Typical symptoms

Any colic is accompanied by pain of varying degrees, strength and duration. Pain is a signal of the presence of a pathological condition and a regulator of the resistance of the horse. Horse pain is divided into spastic (caused by hypertonicity of smooth muscles of the intestine), distensional (expansion of the walls of the intestines and increased pressure on them by accumulated gases), mesenteric (changes in the blood supply to the digestive tract).

The degree of development of colic:

  1. weak, develops at the beginning of the pathology. Animals at this time refuse to feed, look at the stomach, touch his head, and can kick his limbs. Clinical and physiological parameters remain normal. This form is characteristic of ulcers and blockages,
  2. intensive stage with looping of the intestines, inversion of the stomach, infringement of the intestine. The form is characterized by anxiety - the horse wanders aimlessly around the stall, can roll on the ground. Hyperhidrosis and fever. Horses kick, bite the abdominal wall
  3. late degree with rupture of the digestive tract, necrotic processes. The horse is very depressed, the body is covered with cold, sticky sweat.

Physical research - what to look for

Before the start of the inspection and diagnostic measures, it is necessary to find out from the owners, grooms and other personnel information about the health status of the horse before the pathological changes and with their onset. Anamnestic information includes:

  • the duration of an attack of pain and other changes,
  • the nature of colic (the presence of breaks between attacks, strength),
  • feces - consistency, last bowel movement,
  • feeding habits, whether a diet change has recently been made,
  • veterinary measures (parasite treatment, vaccination, treatment) and the presence of diseases,
  • pregnancy in a mare, when was the last birth?

Simultaneously with the collection of anamnestic data, an animal should be examined - the nature of the behavior, the movements produced. Often, one visual observation is enough to make a preliminary (less often final) diagnosis. So, with arena and waltz-like movements, looping of the intestines is suspected. Cold and clammy sweat covering the horse’s body indicates ruptures of the intestine or stomach. Often, intestinal prolapse, inguinal and umbilical hernias can be observed.

Prior to the diagnosis, the horse should not be given pain medication - this will disrupt the clinical picture of colic, preventing the exact cause of the disease from being identified.

The doctor should listen to intestinal sounds. Auscultation is performed along the border of the last rib to the sternum. Normally, iridescent noises should be listened with a frequency of 1 in 1-3 minutes. With ileus, noises are not detected.

  • when pressing with a finger on the gum, a white spot remains up to 5 seconds,
  • body temperature - 38-39 o C,
  • heart rate rises to 70-100 with hernias, bowel twisting.

Functional examination

To identify pathologies, sensing is performed. For this purpose, a nasopharyngeal probe is used, which is inserted through the nasal passage to the pharynx and, after causing a swallowing reflex, is slowly advanced into the stomach. Through the hose, you can get the contents (normally up to 500 ml), evaluate its consistency, take a sample for acidity analysis. With a blockage of the intestine, diseases of the stomach, the volume of fluid exceeds several liters. Sounding is also carried out for therapeutic purposes.

Rectal diagnostics determine the position and condition of the pelvic organs and abdominal cavity. A rectal examination during severe colic, as well as when conducting it in small foals and low breeds, can lead to rupture of the intestine. Diagnosis is carried out gradually and carefully, paying attention to the nature of feces. Typical changes recorded during the study:

  • with colitis and blockage of the cecum, liquid feces are found,
  • bleeding when a bowel ruptures, an ulcer manifests itself in dark feces,
  • obstruction of the colon and weakened peristalsis are manifested by secretion of mucus,
  • ileus is characterized by gas fullness of the small intestine,
  • blockage of the blind intestine is manifested by tension of the supporting ligaments and thickening of the wall,
  • with spasms in the small intestines, areas of narrowing are revealed,
  • invagination of the ileum to the blind is accompanied by the formation of a dense area under the lower back on the right.

If the pain syndrome is pronounced, spasms of the rectum or colic are observed in a young animal or pony, then rectal diagnosis is impossible. To determine the etiology, it is necessary to use ultrasound. Ultrasound examination allows you to identify the accumulation of gases and liquids, changes in the walls of organs, the presence of blockages, intussusception, looping. Ultrasound allows you to cover a relatively large surface of the abdominal cavity (with rectal diagnosis, no more than 40-50% is available). The study is carried out through the abdominal wall or rectally.

Other diagnostic methods:

  • puncture of the abdominal cavity allows you to take peritoneal fluid, according to its parameters (the presence of blood impurities, density, protein content), you can confirm the diagnosis of peritonitis, intestinal rupture,
  • gastroscopy reveals inflammatory diseases of the stomach and esophagus, it is possible to examine the duodenum 12,
  • laparoscopy - surgical examination and treatment through small incisions using special devices,
  • radiography.

Features of veterinary care

Treatment of colic in horses has its own characteristics, depending on the underlying pathology. In one case, it is enough to anesthetize or conduct other drug therapy, but in some cases it is impossible to do without surgical intervention. The veterinarian must choose the optimal treatment method that allows the horse to be restored as soon as possible with minimal risks and losses to the body.

Therapeutic treatment

This method is aimed at eliminating the underlying disease, stopping pain and other pathogenic symptoms and normalizing the functioning of the digestive tract. Therapy is advisable to use in inflammatory processes, ulcers, obstructive ileus, gas accumulation, expansion of the stomach, peritonitis.

Common treatments:

  • pain relief with analgesics - no-spa, novalgin, analgin, buscopan. General use drugs should not be used due to their inhibition of gastrointestinal motility,
  • the introduction of antitoxic serum, prednisone,
  • intravenous infusion of sodium bicarbonate 5%, electrolytes (saline, glucose, hemodes),
  • sounding of the stomach with the removal of contents, the introduction of drugs is possible.

Specific methods of therapy should be used carefully and only with full confidence in the diagnosis. So, when the intestines are blocked, laxatives are introduced through the mouth (4% aqueous solution of glauber's salt, liquid paraffin, magnesium sulfate), enemas can be used. But when looping the intestines, these methods lead to ruptures. Spastic colic caused by a stop of peristalsis is stopped by neostigmine, cerucal - these drugs enhance motility. Also should not be used when twisting. It is advisable to use antibiotics, especially when installing peritonitis, and when helminths are detected, antiparasitic drugs are prescribed. If the treatment is ineffective and the horse has chronic bouts of colic, then it is advisable to carry out the operation.

Surgical intervention

Therapeutic measures do not give a positive result in some cases. So, looping of the intestines or rupture of its wall cannot be eliminated by medication. If such diseases are suspected, the doctor should immediately undergo surgery - delay with a decision and a delay of several hours sharply increase the chances of an adverse outcome.

When surgery is needed:

  • severe bouts of pain that cannot be relieved by a single injection of analgesics (analgin),
  • during rectal or other examinations, tumors, severe blockage, swelling of the intestinal wall, intussusception were detected. You should also resort to surgery for palpation of the small intestine - normally this is not possible,
  • when probing, a large amount (in the norm of 0.5-1 liters) of alkaline liquid was obtained, which indicates the twisting of the intestines,
  • puncture of the abdominal cavity gives a cloudy liquid with an admixture of blood.

The success of the operation depends on the time of its operation - so, with strong ileus, tissue necrosis occurs after 3 hours. With a number of diseases, a positive result is unlikely, for example, when the colon or jejunum is twisted, only 20% of the horses survive.

The main method of surgical intervention is medial laparotomy. An incision of 15-20 cm in length is carried out along the white line (there is an opinion that it is advisable to step back 4-6 cm to the side, since the ligaments of the white line heal much worse than the muscles). Such a wound allows you to visually assess the condition of internal organs. Up to 10 liters of saline are poured into the abdominal cavity - this significantly reduces the risk of bowel rupture. Next, the surgeon examines each organ for damage, intussusception and twisting. If a pathology is detected, an operation is performed - removal of necrotic sections of the intestine, restoration of patency, removal of gases and solids. After the operation and exit from anesthesia, the horse is taken to a special stall where it is necessary to produce a continuous infusion of electrolytes (at least a day). Every 4 hours should be examined, measured heart rate and NPV, body temperature. Horses are prescribed antibiotics, in some cases they wash the abdominal cavity with a solution of furatsilin.

Preventive actions

Most colic can be prevented. A significant role in the mechanism of gastrointestinal diseases is played by horses. The diet should consist of quality products, it is inadmissible to use grain, hay, compound feeds affected by molds, bacteria. Ready mixes and water should have a temperature corresponding to the surrounding or body of the animal, it is inadmissible to give frozen or hot products.

  • concentrates should not exceed 25% of the daily diet, roughage is 60%,
  • grain and other concentrated feed give after hay,
  • after training it is forbidden to feed - you must give the horse a rest of 30 minutes,
  • the animal must have free access to water and hay,
  • root crops, silage, haylage, food industry waste should be limited.

It is important to regularly include the horse in work - keeping the animal at the stable for more than 12 hours a day is unacceptable, this leads to a weakening of the intestinal motor function, and blood circulation is disturbed. Pastures, feeding troughs, stalls are inspected for the presence of foreign objects, although horses are selective in nutrition, but it is possible to swallow various traumatic objects. Deworming should be regular, limit grazing during the summer season of gadfly. Try to minimize stress - changes in the diet should be smooth, it is advisable to use sedatives for long-term transportation of the animal.