Colic Surgery for Horses is a Difficult Decision

January 28, 2005 (published) | June 24, 2013 (revised)

One of the most common conditions in horses is colic, and in some cases surgery is required to save the horse's life. Whether to take the horse to surgery or not is a critical decision and it is difficult for many owners due to the cost involved and the concern with the procedure's possible success. The success of colic surgery has increased tremendously in the last 30 years but it is a major procedure and not all horses survive depending on the degree of intestinal damage that has occurred prior to surgery.

The other concern is if the horse survives, will it be able to return to intended use? This question was studied recently at North Carolina State University. Only horses that survived 6 months after the surgery were included in the study. Of the 195 cases studied, 68% of the horses were performing their intended use and 54% were performing at or above their preoperative performance level. So basically, if you have a horse that undergoes colic surgery and survives, there is about a 50% chance thatthe horse will be usable at the same level as before the surgery. Several complications can occur after colic surgery that can decrease survival and recovery, and infection is fairly common. One study found 43% of the horses developed a post-operative infection. Also, longer periods of anesthesia and surgery were related to a greater chance of infection. Almost all horses had an increased temperature immediately after surgery but an increased temperature after 48 hours was related to an infection. Consider this information when your vet recommends surgery for colic.

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.