When a Horse Colics: The Physical Examination

A general physical examination is performed as part of the clinical evaluation of the horse exhibiting colic.
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A general physical examination is performed as part of the clinical evaluation of the horse exhibiting colic.

This examination is termed “general” because it focuses on examination parameters that are not specific for conditions most often associated with a colic episode. However, these parameters are important in evaluating the overall current health status of the horse (i.e., how stable the animal is at the time of the examination). The parameters most likely to be evaluated include a rectal temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, capillary refill time, and an evaluation of the mucous membrane color.

The rectal temperature must be taken before performing any rectal examination because air introduced into the rectum will falsely lower the temperature. The normal rectal temperature should usually be below 101 degrees Fahrenheit. Normal rectal temperatures of foals tend to be slightly higher but should generally be below 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Increases in body temperature may occur in a normal animal after activity, excitement, or anxiety. However, body temperatures greater than 103 degrees often suggest an inflammatory and/or infectious condition that may be directly associated with or be the cause of colic.

Colic conditions commonly associated with fevers include anterior enteritis, peritonitis, colitis, and intestinal rupture. Low body temperatures are often seen with severe circulatory disturbance and shock

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Written by:

Brad Bentz, VMD, Dipl. ACVIM, ABVP, ACVECC, owns Bluegrass Equine Performance and Internal Medicine in Lexington, Ky., where he specializes in advanced internal medicine and critical care focused on helping equine patients recuperate at home. He’s authored numerous books, articles, and papers about horse health and currently serves as commission veterinarian for the Kentucky State Racing Commission.

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