Post-Colic Return to Performance Events in Horses

July 5, 2005 (published) | December 2, 2014 (revised)

Colic is a major cause of death in horses, and although most horses that colic do not require surgery, many do require it to survive. Whether or not to perform colic surgery is a difficult decision for many owners as the surgery is expensive and if the horse survives, the question is will the horse be useful for his intended purpose in the future. Two studies were performed to answer this question, and the respective authors reported that 81% and 90% return to expected performance after the surgery. However, Dr. Anthony Blikslager reports in The Practitioner that surgery at the referral center is not the total concern as far as costs. There is usually at least three months of recovery and then further rehab for another three months.

A common problem that occurs after colic surgery includes a hernia that can develop at the incision line on the horse's belly. It is reported that 8-16% of horses will develop hernias, and horses with hernias have a three-fold risk of failing to return to their intended use at one year after the surgery. Also, up to 30% of horses develop diarrhea after colic surgery and many lose condition, which increases the time interval for them to return to their previous level of activity. Laminitis can also occur in horses after colic surgery although fortunately it is rare. The development of laminitis may be related to the cause of the colic as well as the aftercare received. Horses with colic surgery that also had lameness at the time of the colic were less likely to perform at the same level one year later. So when considering all these factors, the overall return to general use and performance following colic surgery is around 50%. This statistic is important to know when you have to make the decision about surgery on your horse.

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