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Study identifies post-anaesthetic colic risks

A colicky horse receives intravenous fluids.

A colicky horse receives intravenous fluids.

An American study has identified various risk factors, including delayed faecal output and increasing blood lactate, associated with colic following anaesthesia.

It also found that Arabian horses were at greater risk than other breeds in the study.

The findings, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, should enable vets to implement preventative measures to help reduce incidences of colic in the future.

Gastrointestinal pain, generally referred to as colic, has been estimated to occur in 2.8 per cent to 6 percent of horses following general anaesthesia for elective procedures, the most common cause being impaction of the large intestine, or caecum.

The study, entitled “Risk factors associated with gastrointestinal dysfunction in horses undergoing elective procedures under general anaesthesia”, was conducted by surgeons based at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University. The research had the backing of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

The medical records of 416 horses undergoing general anaesthesia were collected over a two-year period and the potential risk factors were examined. In all, 8.7 percent of the horses were diagnosed with gastrointestinal dysfunction – higher than previous estimates, probably because the study included horses requiring treatment for decreased faecal output whereas previous studies had not.

Potential risk factors were assessed, including faecal output, which was decreased in 38.9 percent of cases, blood lactate, position during surgery, rectal temperature, and breed of horse.

The results showed that Arabian horses, increasing blood lactate, right lateral recumbency, decreased rectal temperature post-procedure and delayed passage of faeces were significantly associated with an increased risk of gastrointestinal dysfunction.

“These findings should help the clinician identify higher-risk horses and be proactive about their management in the post-anaesthetic period,” said Diana Hassel, who instigated the study.

“This may include pre-emptive nasogastric intubation and administration of mineral oil and/or water and electrolytes. Although core temperature control in horses is difficult to achieve in adult horses during surgery, further research into this field may prove beneficial.”

Professor Celia Marr, the editor of the Equine Veterinary Journal, said: “This study brings obvious and immediate practical benefits for clinicians and the horses under their care.

“Rigorous monitoring of higher risk surgical cases should lead to a reduction in incidences of post-operative colic, making recovery procedures less difficult and outcomes more favourable.”

Risk factors associated with gastrointestinal dysfunction in horses undergoing elective procedures under general anaesthesia B. B. NELSON, E. E. LORDAN and D. M. HASSEL, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, USA. The study can be accessed here

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