Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Large Colon Volvulus or Torsion

Large colon volvulus or torsion is an intestinal accident in which the huge large colon rotates on its axis, twisting off the normal flow of feed and gas, and blocking the outgoing blood supply. The condition usually affects a large segment of the large colon.

This condition quickly results in severe shock as a very large reservoir of blood and fluid is trapped in the twisted off segment.

This is probably the most dramatic abdominal crisis in the horse. In its classic form, it results in the most violent abdominal pain a horse can demonstrate. Unfortunately, it is quite common in horses, and even more common in brood mares with foals at their sides.

Prompt diagnosis and a decision about surgical intervention is required in these cases. Usually rapid death occurs without correction at surgery.

Prognosis & Relevant Factors

Prognosis is usually fair with rapid surgical correction. The key is rapid recognition by the attending veterinarian that this is the likely diagnosis, and prompt referral to a surgical facility. The prognosis is poor if there has been severe damage to the large colon. This determination is made by the surgeon once the colon is examined.

Severely damaged large colon should be removed. In my hands, this procedure has been very successful in situations in which the colon was irreparably damaged. Return of the severely damaged colon to the abdomen usually results in shock and death.

There is always a chance of recurrence of this type of intestinal accident, especially in brood mares.

QUESTIONS TO ASK MY VET

  • Why do you think the horse has a volvulus?
  • With surgery, what is the prognosis?
  • What is the cost?
  • What is the likelihood of recurrence?
  • Is this a case that could be treated with large colon resection?
  • PREVENTION

    All factors that reduce colic in general should help reduce the likelihood of intestinal accident but there are still no guarantees.

    Examples of "trigger" or risk factors include changes in stabling and management, stressful events, travel, stall confinement, and concurrent disease. Mares with foals at their sides are particularly at risk.

    Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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