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Exploratory Colic or Abdominal Surgery

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When a horse continues to show either constant or intermittent signs of abdominal pain (colic) after other less-invasive diagnostics have been utilized and the underlying disease process remains a mystery, surgical exploration of the abdomen – colic surgery – may be advised.

Colic surgery may also be indicated where a diagnosis has been made but correction of the problem cannot be made with other less-invasive treatments.

A horse is prepared for surgery, positioned on its back on a hydraulic surgery table, and placed under general anesthesia. An incision line about 30 cm long is made in the lowest part of the abdomen, the ventral midline. The abdomen is manually and visibly explored by the examiner through the incision.

The additional course of action depending on what kind of problem (or problems) the examiner finds, the diagnosis.

Benefits

Colic surgery is often described as the "ultimate diagnostic tool" because of the immediacy of this procedure. The examiner is able to look at and feel the structures of the abdomen firsthand, often providing a wealth of information that is only hinted at obliquely via other diagnostics. Where other treatments fail, colic surgery often provides the best chance to correct the problem.

Limitations

There are areas within the abdomen that are not surgically accessible. The examiner may find something that cannot be corrected or repaired, and euthanasia may be recommended.

Colic surgery is expensive, and postoperative complications add to that cost. There is no guarantee. Your horse may experience colic again (due to the same problem or a different one), after surgery.

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

QUESTIONS TO ASK MY VET

  • What are the risks of general anesthesia?
  • What are the risks of recovery?
  • What are the risks of recurrence?
  • Is my horse a good candidate for colic surgery considering their health, age and demeanor?
  • What is my role in managing my horse after surgery?
  • Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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