A study in The Netherlands looking at 283 horses treated surgically for acute colic found that 59% went home alive.
Colic is a common problem in horses, and although many cases will respond quickly to medical treatment, some do not, and surgical intervention is required to correct the problem. This is not something to be undertaken lightly.
There are risks associated with general anaesthesia and with the surgical procedure itself. A period of convalescence lasting months will likely be required.
A further concern is a risk that the horse will not regain its original athletic ability.
Johannes van Loon and colleagues at Utrecht University reviewed the clinical records of 283 horses who underwent surgery for colic at the department of Equine Sciences.
As well as looking at survival and complication rates, they also considered the functional outcome and behavioural problems.
They found that of the horses that underwent a ventral midline celiotomy (exposure and exploration of the abdomen through a vertical incision along a line along and through the linea alba), 59% went home alive. Of those, 96% were still alive a year later. More than half of them suffered at least one or two episodes of colic during that time.
Encouragingly, almost two-thirds of horses who returned home achieved at least their previous level of performance.
Owners reported altered behaviour and gait-related problems, such as during collecting and lateral bending, in up to 46.2% of horses.
Of the horses that did not survive the hospitalization period 73 horses (25.8%) were euthanized intraoperatively and 36 horses (12.7%) during intensive care unit (ICU) stay. Survival of horses entering the ICU up to discharge from hospital was 79.5%.
The researchers suggest that improving veterinary aftercare, in collaboration with other disciplines such as physiotherapy and saddle fitting, during rehabilitation could produce further improvement in athletic performance and welfare after recovery from colic surgery.
Colic Surgery in Horses: A Retrospective Study Into Short And Long-Term Survival Rate, Complications and Rehabilitation Toward Sporting Activity. Johannes P A M van Loon, Emi M S Visser, Marjolein de Mik-van Mourik, Pieternel Kerbert, Tsjester Huppes, Eveline S Menke. J Equine Vet Sci (2020) 90:103012. DOI:10.1016/j.jevs.2020.103012