Equine Postoperative Ileus Insights

Gain insight about postoperative ileus: a potentially life-threatening complication of colic surgery.

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Researchers still aren’t sure exactly what causes postoperative ileus in horses; however, studies have estimated that it occurs in 10-50% of surgical colic cases | Photo: Rebecca McConnico
When an owner sends a horse under the knife for colic surgery, he or she is first and foremost hoping the horse survives the operation. But just because he makes it through the procedure doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods: Many horses develop a dangerous complication called postoperative ileus—a lack of gut motility after surgery.

At the 2013 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum, held June 12-15 in Seattle, Wash., Neil P.H. Hudson, MA, VetMB, PhD, DEIM, DipVetClinStud, MRCVS, a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, provided insight on what we know, what we’re still trying to learn, and what controversies surround postoperative ileus.

Equine Colic and Ileus

“Colic is reported by insurance companies and universities as the single greatest killer of horses,” Hudson said.

Study results indicate four to 10 out of every 100 horses will colic each year. And while not all of those colics are surgical cases—meaning veterinarians can successfully manage some cases medically—Hudson noted that “all horses undergoing a laparotomy (i.e., exploratory colic surgery) for an acute abdominal crisis are at risk of developing postoperative ileus

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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