Colic the main reason for calling out horse vets after hours – study

Colic surgery for a small intestinal strangulation by a lipoma (fatty mass). The surgeon is holding the lipoma.
Colic surgery for a small intestinal strangulation by a lipoma (fatty mass). The surgeon is holding the lipoma. © Dr John Burford / University of Nottingham/BHS

Colic, wounds and lameness are the most commons reasons for horse owners summoning veterinarians outside normal working hours, according to fresh research.

Findings in the University of Nottingham study were based on 2602 callouts between 2011 and 2013 at two major equine veterinary practices in England, one in the south of the country and the other in the Midlands.

Adelle Bowden and her colleagues, writing in the journal Veterinary Record, reported that 35 percent of the out-of-hours callouts were for colic, representing 923 of the 2620 cases.

Wounds accounted for a fifth of the callouts (511 cases) and lameness accounted for 11 percent (288).

Most of the callouts, 58 percent, required only a single treatment, while just over a quarter required multiple treatments.

In all, horses in 13 percent of cases were euthanised.

Eighteen percent of the cases (480 of the 2602) were deemed to be critical, of which 43 percent related to colic.

Discussing their findings, the study team said the data from both practices proved to be very similar in terms of patient demographics, the conditions presented, and the outcomes.

“A significant number of horses seen out-of-hours have critical outcomes, the majority of which were euthanased,” the study team said. “This is potentially an important welfare consideration and requires further investigation.”

Large numbers of horses required euthanasia out-of-hours, but it was often not possible to determine if this was because of an acute disease or a sudden deterioration of a pre-existing condition from the clinical notes.

The authors say further research is required into out-of-hours decision-making around euthanasia.

The full study team comprised Bowden, Polina Boynova, Marnie Louise Brennan, Gary England, Sarah Freeman and John Burford, all with the University of Nottingham; Tim Mair, with The Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic in Maidstone; and Wendy Furness, with the Scarsdale Equine Practice in Derby.

Retrospective case series to identify the most common conditions seen ‘out-of-hours’ by first-opinion equine veterinary practitioners
Adelle Bowden, Polina Boynova, Marnie Louise Brennan, Gary C W England, Tim S Mair, Wendy A Furness, Sarah L Freeman and John H Burford
Veterinary Record (2020) doi: 10.1136/vr.105880

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