Procedures that you should be able to competently and safely perform on a horse.


Make a Decision About Colic Surgery


You are in a position where you must make a quick decision about colic surgery. If colic surgery is needed, every minute counts.

Deciding whether to proceed with surgery is a difficult decision, and one best contemplated before the moment arrives. However, if you are faced with this decision now, use the questions below to help guide your conversation with your vet.


DIAGNOSIS & PROGNOSIS. Colic is merely a general term for abdominal pain, which can be caused by any number of simple or complex problems. Talk to your vet about the specific diagnosis and prognosis. For example a volvulus (twist of the intestine), feed impaction, strangulating lipoma, or sand accumulation are all very different diagnoses, and the prognosis after surgery differs for each.

ALTERNATIVE TREATMENT OPTIONS. Not all problems causing colic are surgical. Some require immediate surgery. Some may respond to aggressive nursing care. Some do not. Talk to your vet about other treatment options before you proceed with surgery. In some cases, it is reasonable to provide aggressive nursing care for a set period of time and, after reevaluation, surgery may be advised or not.

INSURANCE. Is your horse insured? If so, your insurance company is very involved in this decision. Some policies require that you proceed with colic surgery before they will authorize euthanasia and payment on a mortality policy. Contact your insurance company immediately and advise them of the situation. If it is after hours, then leave them a message describing the situation. Carefully state and record your name, your horse's name, and policy number if you have it, and a brief message describing the situation and your vet's contact information. If you fail to adequately communicate with your insurance company, they may deny your claim.

FINANCES. Can you afford colic surgery? Most equine hospitals require a large initial deposit (typically $3,000-$5,000), and full payment is due when the horse is discharged. The total bill could be well over $10,000 if complications arise.

SURGICAL RISKS. Do you understand and accept the risks of surgery? Colic surgery requires general anesthesia, and sometimes horses have a difficult recovery and other injuries are sustained. Often, you will need to sign a surgery release outlining these risks.

POST-OPERATIVE CARE. Can you provide proper care for your horse after they are discharged? The horse will need to be confined to a clean, bedded, dry stall for about 60 days. For 2 weeks after surgery, someone will need to check on, feed, water, clean the stall, and hand walk the horse a minimum of twice daily. The horse will need to be seen by a veterinarian at about 14 days after the procedure, to remove skin staples and assess the horse. In some cases, a horse that has recovered from colic surgery may need modified diet and management long-term. Are you able to provide this if needed?

RELATIONSHIP, EXPECTATIONS & PERSONALITY. What do you do with your horse? Will you have to reduce your expectations short-term or long-term after surgery? Can your horse endure stall rest for an extended period of time while recovering?

EMOTIONAL TOLL. While many colic operations are uncomplicated, others can be very difficult. There is always the possibility of complications arising at any time during and after surgery. Upon exploring the abdomen, the vet may find an inoperable condition and advise euthanasia at that time. Sometimes surgery goes well, but a few days later a horse may develop secondary illnesses that they cannot overcome.

Maintaining good communication with your vet throughout this difficult period will help you make appropriate decisions.
Read about colic surgery and educate yourself about the benefits and risks before the moment arrives (if ever) when you must make a quick decision.


Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP