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Equine Health Resource

Abdominal or Colic Surgery, Generally



Colic surgery is often considered the last resort, and the only alternative for horses that have developed specific types of physical obstructions or dysfunction of their intestine.

It is advised when a specific diagnosis is made that can only be treated surgically. This is usually when a horse is experiencing severe and unmanageable pain or ongoing pain (with or without a diagnosis), or when a horse’s clinical signs worsen despite symptomatic treatment.

Colic surgery is often called the “ultimate diagnostic tool” because exploration of the abdomen sometimes allows the surgeon to actually see the problem, rather than deduce its existence based on other less direct diagnostics.

Colic surgery is only performed at a veterinary hospital that has the requisite equipment and staffing. A horse is placed under general anesthesia and laid on its back in an operating room. A large incision is created through the layers of the lowest part of the belly until the abdominal cavity is entered. Using gloved hands and arms, the abdomen is explored and a diagnosis is made.

The surgical technique needed and the prognosis is discussed with the owner, and the surgery is completed. The abdomen is sutured closed using special suture and technique. The horse recovers from surgery and the post-operative care phase begins.

Colic surgery requires a team of trained professionals to properly anesthetize and successfully fix a mechanical problem within the abdomen.

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

Inability to repair the problem, injury during recovery, lack of intestinal function following surgery, ineffective repair of the problem, recurrence of the problem, incisional problems or infection, other systemic illness, laminitis (founder).

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Colic surgery is expensive. It is not advised for horses that are not good candidates for the long-term post-operative convalescence, or for horses with other illness.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

Horses that undergo successful colic surgery for certain conditions may show great improvement upon recovery from anesthesia.

For horses with more severe conditions, the five days following surgery are a critical time and require intense medical treatment, monitoring, and intravenous fluid therapy.

The rate of recurrence depends on the specific diagnosis.

Questions To Ask My Vet

  • What is wrong with my horse (diagnosis) & how will you correct it at surgery?
  • Tell me more about post-operative care?
  • Is my horse a good candidate for colic sx given their age, disposition & health?

Helpful Outside ResourcesCredible Equine Health Information on the Internet

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


Stewart S, Southwood LL, Aceto HW. Comparison of short- and long-term complications and survival following jejunojejunostomy, jejunoileostomy and jejunocaecostomy in 112 horses: 2005–2010. Equine Vet J 2014 46(3): 333-38.


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