Geriatric Colic Surgery: Factors to Consider

As equine care has evolved, the proportion of senior horses—those 16 or older—within the population has grown. While transitioning your horse from a successful performance career to a well-deserved retirement can be straightforward and satisfying, medical decision-making can begin to feel more ­complicated during this stage. In two large studies gastrointestinal (GI) disease was the most common reason for admission to a referral hospital, with colic being the major cause.

Colic is stressful for any owner, especially when trying to decide whether to send a horse to colic surgery—a decision that can become more complex as your horse ages. To help you with this difficult choice, here are considerations to discuss with your veterinarian.

Colic Type

Colic falls into many categories. Here I’ll focus on small intestine vs. large intestine and strangulating (when something obstructs the blood supply to the tissue) vs. nonstrangulating. Of these distinctions, geriatric horses are at increased risk of a strangulating lesion of the small intestine (Krista et al., 2009). This is because geriatric horses are more likely to develop strangulating lipomas, which are essentially balls of fat with a stalk that ensnares a piece of the GI tract, than young adult horses. Unfortunately, horses with small intestine lesions have lower rates of survival to hospital discharge than those with large intestine lesions.

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