Colic considered the most common emergency in horses by yard owners

Flank watching is a classic sign of colic.
Some 94% of respondents to a British survey considered colic to be the most concerning condition. © University of Nottingham/BHS

Surveyed operators of horse yards overwhelmingly considered colic to be an emergency, according to research.

The findings of the small-scale survey set the background for work that ultimately led to the development of the well-received REACT colic campaign and an ongoing wound project.

University of Nottingham researchers set out in their study, reported in the journal Veterinary Evidence, to identify factors influencing emergency decision-making among livery owners around horse health.

An online questionnaire was distributed to livery yard owners accredited with the British Horse Society. There were 104 survey participants in all, who represented experienced owners with responsibility for the care of several horses.

Ninety-seven percent of respondents had kept horses for more than 10 years, and 99% of them reported previous experience of emergency conditions, mostly colic (96%) and wounds (92%).

The study team reported that 94% of respondents considered colic to be the most concerning condition, followed by lameness (36%) and wounds (21%).

Colic was considered to be the most common emergency condition, followed by wounds and fractures.

Factors considered important in emergency decision-making were the degree of pain, the likelihood of the condition resolving, and the severity of the condition.

“This study clearly identified the importance of colic to livery yard owners, both in terms of frequency and impact: it was identified as both the most common emergency and non-routine condition, and as the disease that was most concerning for participants,” Adelle Bowden and her colleagues reported.

Indeed, colic was considered the most common reason for veterinary attendance, excluding vaccination and routine dental care.

“The majority of participants had sought veterinary attention for emergency situations, and therefore it was surprising that over 50% of the study population had only experienced five different conditions – colic, wounds, laminitis, choke and foot abscesses.”

Recall bias may have been a factor influencing this, they wrote.

“Nearly a third of participants found emergency situations traumatic.

“Most participants felt they knew when they required attendance of a veterinary surgeon in emergency situations, but this survey reflects opinion and is not necessarily what actually happens.”

The majority of participants had formal equine qualifications and therefore had received some formal training on equine health and disease.

“It is reassuring that the majority of participants stated that they would phone a veterinary surgeon directly for advice, and would readily use this source if they were concerned.

“It would be interesting to explore further the knowledge and understanding of certain emergency conditions of the general horse-owning population, and how this potentially impacts on the horses in these yard situations.”

In conclusion, the study team said the findings highlighted the importance of colic and wounds as emergency conditions in the horse, and had identified factors considered important in emergency decision-making.

“The outcomes identify where research and clinical resources should be targeted to improve emergency care for horses.”

The full study team comprised Bowden, John Burford, Marnie Brennan, Gary England, and Sarah Freeman, all with the University of Nottingham.

Emergency Conditions in Horses: Opinions and Decision Making of Livery Yard Owners
A. Bowden, J.H. Burford, M.L. Brennan, G.C.W. England, S.L. Freeman
Veterinary Evidence, Vol 4, Issue 2 (2019), Published: 03 May 2019

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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