Colic Prevalence in Horses Hospitalized for Ocular Disease

Colic is a serious health concern for horses recovering from a variety of surgeries, illnesses, or injuries. Researchers are working to understand which conditions pose the biggest colic risk and to identify associated risk factors. Recently researchers took a closer look at colic in ocular disease patients.

Ceri Sherlock, BVetMed, MS, Dipl. ACVS, MRCVS, and colleagues at the University of Georgia (UGA) College of Veterinary Medicine, recently completed a study aimed at identifying the prevalence of and potential risk factors for colic in horses hospitalized for ocular (eye) disease.

Sherlock, who is currently a resident in diagnostic imaging at Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic and The University of London in England, explained that any hospitalized horses are likely at risk for colic development due to changes in management, exercise, and diet associated with hospital care and recent transport to the clinic.

"Horses with ocular disease commonly require prolonged treatment and often receive medications such as sedatives, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and topical atropine (used to dilate the eye), all of which have been associated with changes in gastrointestinal motility or colic," she added.

To that end, the team identified 337 equids (317 horses, 19 ponies, and one donkey ranging in age from 1 month to 34 years) admitted to the UGA Veterinary Teaching Hospital from Jan. 1, 1997, to Dec. 31, 2008, for ocular disease treatment; of those, 72 (21.4%) suffered one or more colic episodes during their hospital stays (a high percentage of horses when compared to the 2.8% to 8.8% of horses that develop colic after non-abdominal surgical procedures, the team said). Key findings of the case review included:

  • Colic was considered mild in 43 equids (59.7%), moderate in 21 (29.2%), and severe in eight (11.1%);
  • Veterinarians treated 63 of 72 animals medically with a combination of mineral oil and/or fluid and electrolyte therapy administered via a nasogastric tube, systemic NSAIDs, intravenous fluid therapy, antispasmodic drug administration, and gastroprotectants;
  • Nine horses underwent colic surgery when medical treatment proved unsuccessful; and
  • Sixty-seven horses survived to discharge, while five died or were euthanized in the hospital.

The team identified two risk factors during their data evaluation and analysis: age and hospitalization time. They found that horses were significantly more likely to develop colic during ocular disease treatment if they were younger than 1 year or older than 20 years than if they were ages 2 to 20. Further, the likelihood of developing colic increased if the animals were hospitalized for eight days or more than if the equids were discharged after one to four days.

The team noted that the exact reasons a longer hospital stay increases the odds of colic development, but "it may be associated with the severity of the ocular disease, a more prolonged change in management, or an increased administration of medications over a longer duration of time," Sherlock relayed.

"Findings in the present study may assist clinicians who treat equids with ocular disease to identify potential risk factors for the development of colic, which may lead to the implementation of aggressive prophylactic (preventive) measures," she noted.

The team noted that further research is needed to "enhance our ability to decrease the incidence of colic in equids hospitalized for ocular disease," adding that a prospective study would be beneficial for evaluating specific factors, such as patients' pain scores.

The study, "Risk factors for colic in equids hospitalized for ocular disease," appeared in June in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The abstract can be viewed online.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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