Whew! It's been a hot few weeks. The heat has helped us focus on keeping our horses hydrated and comfortable but did you know that now, as this heat wave breaks, may be the time to be even more vigilant? Whenever there are significant weather changes (either cold to hot OR hot to cold) odds are good that we'll begin to see more colic cases than usual.
Colic is a general term. It means abdominal distress of any kind. It's causes are many and varied, from simple indigestion to cancer, a bladder stone or a twisted intestine. The signs of colic are also many and varied, from just looking "grumpy" to violent rolling or flailing about. It's important to recognize and treat colic signs early, so knowing your horse's habits is essential.
Mild colic signs include; occasional pawing, turning towards the flank, disinterest in food, general depression or restlessness, laying down then getting up, mild tension or "grumpiness," lifting the upper lip (flehmen response).
Never discount even mild signs of colic, you cannot ignore them away, but don't panic either. It's a good time to be alert and attentive. Write down the time and the signs you are seeing. Do a physical evaluation, especially noting heart and respiratory rates, color of mucus membranes and if your horse seems dehydrated.
(see PE normals here)
Depending on whether or not signs escalate, wait an hour or so and repeat your evaluation. If signs worsen or don't get better, it's time to give us a call. Calling early gives Dr. Weeks a heads up that trouble may be brewing and it gives you someone knowledgable to consult with. The better job you do with your physical exam, the better Dr. Weeks can advise you about what to do until he gets there. Most colic cases stay in the mild to moderate category, but it's also true that "what we don't know,
As a general policy we do not recommend that you medicate your horse without first consulting with the doctor. The reason for this is because of the wide range of possible causes for the signs you see. If pain medication masks your horse's discomfort we may miss the fact that the underlying problem is actually getting worse. Success in colic treatment is significantly improved with early diagnosis and treatment and it's imperative for optimal management of surgical conditions.
So let's talk surgery. No one wants to hear the "S" word, but ignoring the possibility is not good for anyone. If your horse needs it, can you afford the cost and trauma of surgical treatment? Think about it. Just because we can, doesn't mean we should... perform surgery in all situations where it may be indicated. Each animal, each situation is unique. We sincerely hope that you never need to make the decision, but right now, while your horse is healthy and happy, is a good time to think about the "what if's"regarding colic surgery. Our surgical partner is most frequently the team at
Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital
in Snohomish. They have the expertise, facility and staff to undertake emergency abdominal surgery. Their success is directly related to early and accurate presumptive diagnosis which is based on the history of onset, progression of signs and response to treatment in the field.
Now that you're "knocking on wood" because we've spooked you about surgery, the truth is that most colicky horses recover just fine. More often than not we never know the exact cause of their distress. Keep in mind that ambient temperature changes (like now and with the onset of fall weather), changes in routine; in feed or feeding schedules, in water intake, changes in exercise - amount or intensity can all contribute to a belly aching horse. While you can't always control these things, it's a good idea to keep colic on your radar and fine tune your management practices to minimize changes that may disturb those sensitive equine bellies!